Katherine Kersten is Minnesota’s own version of Glenn Beck. She’s a ‘columnist’ (literally true, since she is given a regular column to fill with right-wing nonsense) for the Star Tribune, and is a regular embarrassment. She recently aimed her smear-gun at the University of Minnesota, in a deranged tirade that has been picked up by Wing Nut Daily and Hot Air (read the comments at that site for a glimpse of how insane the right wing has become).
What made her so angry? The UM has a program in the college of education called the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, or TERI. It’s a reasonably routine effort; the college is reevaluating their program, trying to set up appropriate priorities for teacher education, and is churning out documents as various groups wrestle with decisions about what’s important in their programs. Like I say, it’s routine — I’ve had to read lots of this kind of thing as part of the general output of a university bureaucracy — and it’s also a good thing, that university divisions exhibit at least a little introspection and flexibility.
Kersten does not think this is a good thing. She has her own strange view of what the effort is all about.
In a report compiled last summer, the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U’s College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of “the American Dream” in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace — and be prepared to teach our state’s kids — the task force’s own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.
Except…the report says nothing of the kind. You can read it yourself, if you want, although you probably don’t — it’s written in lumbering, repetitive, earnest Academese, which is a dialect of Bureaucratese, and it isn’t pretty. I get this stuff in my mailbox and it makes me want to claw my eyes out, so it took some masochistic discipline to dig into it voluntarily, but Kersten misrepresents the thing from top to bottom.
There is a grain of truth to what she says: the report does say that we need more emphasis on recognizing and appreciating diversity, and that we need more equitable representation of American culture in the teacher workforce. It does not say that America is an “oppressive hellhole”; that’s her own weird interpretation. She should have looked deeper. Doesn’t the fact that we’re training teachers at all imply that America must be a pit of ignorance and stupidity that needs correcting?
She’s basically taking the blinkered and customary wingnut position that any discussion of how we can improve the country implies that we are currently in a less than sublime state of perfection, which makes any constructive suggestion an unpatriotic act of treason.
This has set the wingnuts on fire. They are complaining bitterly about the goals of the UM college of education.
In an October 28, 2009, proposal to the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, the college promises that it will revise its curriculum toward the “development of cultural competence.” The college’s full articulation of this vague concept at present is just what the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group has determined it to be.
Not only that, however, the college in its proposal promises to start screening its applicants to make sure they have the proper “commitments” and “dispositions”:
Develop admission procedures to assess professional commitments.
We recognize that both academic preparation and particular dispositions or professional commitments are needed for effective teaching. [Emphasis in original.]
The college promises that it will begin using “predictive criteria” to make sure that future teachers will be able to develop an acceptable level of “cultural competence”-apparently, those who do not pass the political litmus test and seem too set in their beliefs will never get admitted. This is far worse than what Columbia Teachers College does with its own “dispositions” requirement, and far in excess of what the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has ever mandated.
Never trust a kook to quote anything. When you see one line extracted from a document, and then spun out into a fable of planned oppression of a political point of view, you know there’s got to be something more that they’re leaving out. In fact, in this case you might be wondering what political views this ‘litmus test’ is intended to exclude…like, no Republicans will ever be allowed to teach again?
Nope. Here’s what they mean by ‘dispositions and commitments’.
Develop admission procedures to assess professional commitments.
We recognize that both academic preparation and particular dispositions or professional commitments are needed for effective teaching. Our school-based partners have told us that they would like to hire beginning teachers who demonstrate the commitment to focus relentlessly on student learning and take responsibility for the learning of all students without seeking excuses in the community, family, and culture of the students. They want teachers who can communicate and collaborate with each other and with the families and communities of their students. In response to our school partners, we will develop admission procedures that identify candidates with the potential to demonstrate these commitments as teachers.
Note the part I put in boldface. That’s what has Kersten incensed, and that is fueling the fear of right-wing reactionaries. They’re saying they want teachers who want to teach, and who do not sit around blaming the failure of students on their race or ethnicity. That’s it. It isn’t a political litmus test at all — it’s saying that bigots who won’t try to teach all of their students equally do not make good teachers.
That’s the sentiment that Kersten, Hot Air, and the Wing Nut Daily find horribly objectionable.
Fundamentally, it’s yet another admission that that (R) after politician’s name has become shorthand for (Racist). Conservative politics has become so tainted with lunatic anti-immigrant, anti-diversity, anti-human policies that a college can’t even say that tolerance and encouragement of the non-white portion of our populations is a good goal to work towards without being accused of being unpatriotic.
It’s not surprising. These are the same people who think Lou Dobbs would make a good president, and who dream of a Beck/Palin candidacy in 2012.