Friday Ephemera
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Dissident Academic Feels the Warmth of “Social Justice”

Longtime readers of this blog will be familiar with KC Johnson, a Brooklyn College history professor who’s written at length about leftist groupthink in academia, its various pathologies and its imperviousness to correction. Johnson is the co-author of Until Proven Innocent, which documents the infamous Duke “rape” case and its participants’ extraordinary improprieties and political prejudice.

In May 2005, writing for Inside Higher Ed, Johnson drew attention to the emergence of “dispositions theory” and attempts to impose overt political filtering in dozens of teacher-training programmes:

The faculty’s ideological imbalance has allowed three factors - a new accreditation policy, changes in how students are evaluated and curricular orientation around a theme of “social justice” - to impose a de facto political litmus test on the next cohort of public school teachers.

Looking through various teacher-training outlines, the familiar leftist buzzwords appear repeatedly. “Diversity” and identity politics feature prominently and teachers-to-be are referred to as “critical thinking change agents.” These “agents” will use the classroom “to transcend the negative effects of the dominant culture” and will “speak on behalf of identified constituent groups,” becoming “advocates for those on the margins of society.” (Evidently, “critical thinking” should be taken to mean leftist thinking – critical of capitalism, individualism and bourgeois values - not thinking that might also be critical of the left, its methods and its assorted conceits. And one wonders how many liberties will be taken while speaking on behalf of “groups” deemed marginal and oppressed.)

Some programmes encourage teachers to regard themselves as “enlightened leaders” who “must understand the political nature of education,” that “education is a political act,” and thereby “act as change agents,” while “developing emerging theories to support change agentry principles and processes.” The prospective teacher is expected to “serve as an advocate for groups that have been traditionally discriminated against” and to “provide evidence” of their own “commitment to social justice.” This commitment may be fostered by “fully developing candidates, not only academically but also in moral and political senses.”

All of which prompted Johnson to ask the obvious question: Who gets to define this mysterious “social justice”? Who gets to say what a “more just society” might entail and how one might achieve it?

As the hotly contested campaigns of 2000 and 2004 amply demonstrated, people of good faith disagree on the components of a “just society,” or what constitutes the “negative effects of the dominant culture”…An intellectually diverse academic culture would ensure that these vague sentiments did not yield one-sided policy prescriptions for students. But the professoriate cannot dismiss its ideological and political imbalance as meaningless while simultaneously implementing initiatives based on a fundamentally partisan agenda. […]

Traditionally, prospective teachers needed to demonstrate knowledge of their subject field and mastery of essential educational skills. In recent years, however, an amorphous third criterion called “dispositions” has emerged. As one conference devoted to the concept explained, using this standard would produce “teachers who possess knowledge and discernment of what is good or virtuous.” Advocates leave ideologically one-sided education departments to determine “what is good or virtuous” in the world.

Johnson provided an illustration of “critical thinking” and “enlightened leadership” in action at his own institution, Brooklyn College:

At the undergraduate level, these high-sounding principles have been translated into practice through a required class called “Language and Literacy Development in Secondary Education.” According to numerous students, the course’s instructor demanded that they recognise “white English” as the “oppressors’ language.” Without explanation, the class spent its session before Election Day screening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. When several students complained to the professor about the course’s politicised content, they were informed that their previous education had left them “brainwashed” on matters relating to race and social justice.

A number of students filed written complaints about their crassly politicised “training.” No formal replies were forthcoming, but the consequences of their heresy soon became apparent:

One senior was told to leave Brooklyn and take an equivalent course at a community college. Two other students were accused of violating the college’s “academic integrity” policy and [were] refused permission to bring a witness, a tape recorder, or an attorney to a meeting with the dean of undergraduate studies to discuss the allegation.

This egregious and sinister treatment prompted Johnson to raise an entirely legitimate question:

Must prospective public school teachers accept a professor’s argument that “white English is the oppressors’ language” in order to enter the profession?

However, raising questions of this kind is not without its own equally sinister consequences, as Johnson soon discovered:

“What was so offensive… was this argument that an individual faculty dissenter needed to be silenced to promote academic freedom.”

“Social justice,” people. Feel its warmth.