"dispositions"? NCATE's prose made clear that they are
the beliefs and attitudes that guide a teacher toward a moral
stance. That sounds harmless enough, but it opened a door to reject
teaching candidates on the basis of thoughts and beliefs. In 2002,
NCATE said that an education school may require a commitment to
social justice. William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford,
wrote last month that education schools "have been given
unbounded power over what candidates may think and do, what they
may believe and value."
denies that it is imposing groupthink, but the ed schools, essentially
a liberal monoculture, use dispositions theory to require support
for diversity and a culturally left agenda, including opposition
to what the schools sometimes call "institutional racism,
classism and heterosexism."
some students concluded that thought control would make classroom
dissent dangerous. A few students rebelled when a teacher at Brooklyn
College School of Education showed Michael Moore's movie "Fahrenheit
9/11" in class and dismissed "white English" as
"the language of oppressors." Five students filed written
complaints and received no formal reply from the college. One
was told to leave the school and take an equivalent course at
a community college. Two of the complaining students were then
accused of plagiarism and marked down one letter grade. The two
were refused permission to bring a witness, a tape recorder, or
a lawyer to meet with a dean to discuss the matter.
a history professor at the school who defended the dissenting
students, became a target himself. After writing an article in
Inside Higher Ed attacking dispositions theory as a form of mind
control, Johnson faced a possible investigation by a faculty Integrity
Committee. The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights
in Education entered the case on Johnson's behalf, accusing the
college of viewpoint discrimination and a violation of academic
freedom. FIRE is a national civil liberties group that does what
the American Civil Liberties Union should be doing but usually
won't. FIRE said: "Brooklyn College must confirm that it
tolerates dissent, that it is not conducting another secret investigation
of one of its own professors." FIRE says the college has
"disavowed any secret investigation."
over dispositions theory has been unfolding at Washington State
University's college of education. The college threatened to terminate
a student, Edward Swan, 42, for failing four "professional
disposition evaluations" (PDEs). Swan, a religious man of
working-class background, has expressed conservative opinions
in class. He opposes affirmative action and doesn't believe gays
should adopt children. His grades are good, and even his critics
say he is highly intelligent. One teacher gave Swan a failing
PDE after spotting the statement "diversity is perversity"
in Swan's copy of a textbook.
At the start
of the current semester, Swan was offered a choice: Sign a contract
with the college or be expelled. The contract included mandatory
diversity training, completing various projects at the faculty's
direction, and the possibility of above-normal scrutiny during
Swan's student teaching this fall. Instead of signing, Swan contacted
immediately, Swan's situation changed," said an article in
the local newspaper, The Moscow-Pullman Daily News. The
faculty told Swan he did not have to sign the contract and would
not be expelled. Judy Mitchell, dean of the college of education,
said the school would continue using the PDEs. A reporter asked
her if Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would pass a PDE if
he were a student at the college. "I don't know how to answer
that," Mitchell replied.
president of FIRE, then jumped in. "I commend the dean for
her honesty," he said. "But the answer is alarming because
Scalia shouldn't fail any 'character' test because of his beliefs."
Obviously, the dean had a problem. She couldn't say that no conservatives
need apply, and she couldn't tell her faculty that the PDEs would
be waived for someone like Scalia.
In both the
Johnson and the Swan cases, the colleges backed down when FIRE
went public, but neither agreed to avoid using dispositions theory
for apparently ideological purposes. The lesson for education
students is clear: Say what you think in class, and if the administration
moves against you, give FIRE a call.