Social Justice and Censorship

Glenn Ricketts

There’s a new video posted at FIRE’s web page (that’s the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) which you can view below, and which is well worth the two minutes of viewing time.  In it, Professor KC Johnson, a Brooklyn College historian and NAS member, discusses his go-around with censorious education school colleagues several years ago.  They did not take kindly to his published critique of ed school certification standards which seemed to mandate that aspiring teachers demonstrate their embrace of a vague, slippery notion of “social justice” if they expected to make the cut. Several of his students, in fact, had disputed the version of “social justice” that they were required to endorse, and were summarily dropped from the program.  But instead of responding to Professor Johnson’s arguments, his colleagues sought to silence and sanction him, as he describes in the video.  As they’ve so often done, FIRE weighed in, and assisted Professor Johnson in fending off this outrageous assault on academic freedom, as he gratefully acknowledges here.

Readers of this page may recall that NAS has also sparred with such ideologically skewed teacher certification standards. While these criteria may have been enforced locally by schools of education, they ultimately emanated from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the principal national accreditor of teacher education programs in the United States. In November of 2005, we wrote to then Assistant Secretary for Post Secondary Education Sally Stroup to argue that enforcement of “social justice”—among the “dispositions” NCATE required its client schools to select—effectively imposed a specific ideological viewpoint on education school students.  This, we contended, unavoidably implicated the U.S. Department of Education in potentially major violations of these students’ First Amendment rights, in view of NCATE’s status as a federally-authorized accrediting body.

Fortunately, NCATE’s own status as an accreditor was due for renewal in June, 2006.  Former NAS president Steve Balch prepared a statement for the National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity arguing that NCATE’s own re-accreditation should be withheld, unless the organization removed “social justice” from its “professional dispositions” criteria.  To his surprise, and before he presented this testimony, NCATE president Arthur Wise did exactly that.  Read about this intriguing episode here and here.

Ideological indoctrination hasn’t disappeared from teacher training problems, of course.  But it’s a pleasure to acknowledge the salutary work of colleagues such as KC Johnson and organizations such as FIRE.  It’s also nice to note that, just occasionally, we win one. 

KC Johnson on Dispositions Theory from FIRE on Vimeo.

Image: "Censorshipby Bill Kerr CC BY-SA 2.0

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