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Continued: Katherine Kersten: At U, future teachers may be reeducated

  • Article by: KATHERINE KERSTEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 2, 2009 - 11:48 AM

Do you believe in the American dream -- the idea that in this country, hardworking people of every race, color and creed can get ahead on their own merits? If so, that belief may soon bar you from getting a license to teach in Minnesota public schools -- at least if you plan to get your teaching degree at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

In a report compiled last summer, the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U's College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of "the American Dream" in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace -- and be prepared to teach our state's kids -- the task force's own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.

The task group is part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, a multiyear project to change the way future teachers are trained at the U's flagship campus. The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed.

The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the "overarching framework" for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.

The first step toward "cultural competence," says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize -- and confess -- their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the reeducation camps of China's Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi.

The task group recommends, for example, that prospective teachers be required to prepare an "autoethnography" report. They must describe their own prejudices and stereotypes, question their "cultural" motives for wishing to become teachers, and take a "cultural intelligence" assessment designed to ferret out their latent racism, classism and other "isms." They "earn points" for "demonstrating the ability to be self-critical."

The task group opens its report with a model for officially approved confessional statements: "As an Anglo teacher, I struggle to quiet voices from my own farm family, echoing as always from some unstated standard. ... How can we untangle our own deeply entrenched assumptions?"

The goal of these exercises, in the task group's words, is to ensure that "future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression."

Future teachers must also recognize and denounce the fundamental injustices at the heart of American society, says the task group. From a historical perspective, they must "understand that ... many groups are typically not included" within America's "celebrated cultural identity," and that "such exclusion is frequently a result of dissimilarities in power and influence." In particular, aspiring teachers must be able "to explain how institutional racism works in schools."

After indoctrination of this kind, who wouldn't conclude that the American Dream of equality for all is a cruel hoax? But just to make sure, the task force recommends requiring "our future teachers" to "articulate a sophisticated and nuanced critical analysis" of this view of the American promise. In the process, they must incorporate the "myth of meritocracy in the United States," the "history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values, [and] history of white racism, with special focus on current colorblind ideology."

What if some aspiring teachers resist this effort at thought control and object to parroting back an ideological line as a condition of future employment? The task group has Orwellian plans for such rebels: The U, it says, must "develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan."

And what if students' ideological purity is tainted once they begin to do practice teaching in the public schools? The task group frames the danger this way: "How can we be sure that teaching supervisors are themselves developed and equipped in cultural competence outcomes in order to supervise beginning teachers around issues of race, class, culture, and gender?"

Its answer? "Requir[e] training/workshop for all supervisors. Perhaps a training session disguised as a thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year?"

When teacher training requires a "disguise," you know something sinister is going on.

Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at kakersten@gmail.com.

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