Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Challenging dispositions 

The Chronicle of Higher Ed runs this week a column by Greg Lukianoff of FIRE discussing the use of dispositions theory in the Columbia Teachers College. (Subscribers link; FIRE is providing a copy free for non-subscribers.) See my previous discussions here and here, for example. Columbia has responded to public demands by FIRE and the New York Civil Rights Coalition that it stop requiring students to demonstrate a "commitment to social justice" by saying it doesn't enforce the rule that is written in its web (or, more likely, that it lets students have freedom interpreting that to mean whatever they envision it to mean.) Lukianoff responds:

Vague, subjective, and politicized evaluation standards are dangerous. They invite administrators and faculty members to substitute their own opinions and political beliefs in place of evaluating students' skill as teachers. Many of us can think of teachers and professors whose politics we may not have agreed with but who were nonetheless exceptional educators. Having the "correct" political beliefs no more makes someone a good teacher than having "incorrect" beliefs necessarily makes someone a bad teacher.

Teachers College's standards are disturbingly vague and subjective. Its "Conceptual Framework" states that education is a "political act," that teachers � and hence teachers in training or students � are expected to be "participants in a larger struggle for social justice." At times, however, the standards are remarkably specific: "To change the system and make schools and societies more equitable, educators must recognize ways in which taken-for-granted notions regarding the legitimacy of the social order are flawed." The policy goes on to say that students are expected to recognize that "social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility."

Those may be perfectly fine pedagogical theories appropriate for academic study, but when they are tied to mandatory evaluation criteria, they amount to a political litmus test. Does Teachers College really believe that a student who thinks "social responsibility" and "merit" are positive societal values would not make a good teacher?

It is hard to imagine how one creates an instrument by which one is evaluated.

(h/t: Loyal reader jw)

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