Today it's the University of Minnesota.


December 3, 2009

Today it's the University of Minnesota.

Each new revelation that some school of education in this country continues to force its students to undergo disposition and cultural competency scrutiny is a kind of pedagogical bimbo eruption -- a moment when embarrassing people lurking on task forces and subcommittees break free and strut their stuff on the national stage.

Heirs of the zealots who forcibly evaluated "teachers' mental hygiene and personality" in the mid-twentieth century (Laurie Moses Hines elaborates on the generational continuity), the new crop of scrutinizers has the same unseemly interest in the "emotional life of the teacher," which becomes, in place of knowledge and its transmission, "the focus of teacher preparation." Contemporary mental hygienists consider themselves entitled to palpate and subject to testing, writes William Damon, "virtually all of a candidate's thoughts and actions."

Hines points out that everything other than the intimate mental life of ed school students is already appropriately reviewed elsewhere:

If the purpose is to ensure that access to children is denied to those who are truly deviant (sexual predators) or those who could harm children (drug dealers, felony offenders, child abusers), then it seems the assessment is best made by the government, which has the resources and responsibility to identify these people. If the purpose is to ensure that potential teachers have basic characteristics like honesty or fairness, existing standards such as university honor codes in higher education should suffice. If the purpose is to see how a teacher acts in a certain environment (be it an urban, suburban, or rural school, with a diverse or homogeneous student body), then perhaps those in that environment can best perform that assessment, taking into account the standards, mores, and preferences of the community. The ultimate employers of teachers, local school districts, can and do screen for the characteristics they want in their employees.

If, on the other hand, what you really want to do is "evaluat[e] students on the basis of their political views," writes Hines, then the endless teasing-out interviews, multiple choice personality tests, and group gropes of disposition scrutiny are just the thing.


Of course, as Frederick Hess notes, no scientific evidence supports the belief that enforcing certain attitudes toward race, class, and gender improves teaching. Rather, he says, "Screening on 'dispositions' serves primarily to cloak academia's biases in the garb of professional necessity."

One thing screening doesn't cloak is love of power. The real precursor model for the disposition enthusiasts in the academy is the deadest whitest malest form of hierarchical life imaginable: The traditional German university professor. Totally powerful, he regarded his students as sheep eager to imitate him in all things. Their job was to scrutinize him in order to figure out exactly who he wanted them to be; his job was to keep an imperial eye on them for signs of deviation.

Thus, Paul Tarc opposes disposition assessment because it makes it very likely that "students will comply and perform the desired dispositions to get a good grade."


Actually, that's reason number three why Tarc objects.

Number One: Litmus tests expose schools of education to "allegations of political indoctrination."

Number Two: They result in "downplaying of knowledge to sentiments." Which is what I meant up there by group gropes: Let's not bother reading and discussing arguments about justice and equality. Tell me how you feel. Tell all of us how you feel.

Heather MacDonald dubs the prevailing reality of many ed schools "Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)—self-actualization, following one’s joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity—but the one thing they are not about is knowledge."

Desperate for places where education students can think rather than feel, where they can be left alone to study and then apprentice in classrooms, rather than be mussed up day and night by ideologues, New York State, reports the New York Times, "will consider letting alternative teacher training programs certify teachers, expanding the role that for decades has been exclusively performed by education schools."

With every bimbo eruption, schools of education move closer to their own obsolescence.



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