Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Choose your Ghetto

KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, asks whether a de facto test of political correctness is being required of prospective teachers. In an article in Higher-Ed Views, Johnson writes:

The program at my own institution, Brooklyn College, exemplifies how application of NCATE’s new approach can easily be used to screen out potential public school teachers who hold undesirable political beliefs. Brooklyn’s education faculty, which assumes as fact that “an education centered on social justice prepares the highest quality of future teachers,” recently launched a pilot initiative to assess all education students on whether they are “knowledgeable about, sensitive to and responsive to issues of diversity and social justice as these influence curriculum and pedagogy, school culture, relationships with colleagues and members of the school community, and candidates’ analysis of student work and behavior.”

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 recognize “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 politicized content, they were informed that their previous education had left them “brainwashed” on matters relating to race and social justice.

Johnson argues that a required commitment to "social justice" is sometimes used as a proxy to require a set of political beliefs. But in a sense this requirement only sets the seal on a long-term trend. Citing a survey "of 1,643 faculty members at 183 four-year colleges and universities" by three political scientists, he noted that the great majority of faculty members were self-described liberals.

Faculty members in the study were asked to place themselves on the political spectrum, and 72 percent identified as liberal while only 15 percent identified as conservative, with the remainder in the middle. The professors were also asked about party affiliation, and here the breakdown was 50 percent Democrats, 11 percent Republicans, and the rest independent and third parties. The study also broke down the findings by academic discipline, and found that humanities faculty members were the most likely (81 percent) to be liberal. The liberal percentage was at its highest in English literature (88 percent), followed by performing arts and psychology (both 84 percent), fine arts (83 percent), political science (81 percent). Other fields have more balance. The liberal-conservative split is 61-29 in education, 55-39 in economics, 53-47 in nursing, 51-19 in engineering, and 49-39 in business.

Some reviewers of Johnson's work sharply disagree. One Modern Languages professor said "I have worked with many colleagues over the years whose political and religious affiliations remained unknown to me. When I recommended hiring candidates, I always did so based on their academic credentials." Another basically argued that conservativism is positively correlated with intellectual inferiority. Hence there was no bias.

I think that a more thorough and unbiased study will reveal that far fewer conservative Christians opt to pursue academic careers (outside of religiously affiliated schools) than other groups. This, as I’ve noted previously, is because scholarship in prestigious research universities IMPLIES skepticism, questioning, challenging assumptions, revising traditions, and subverting dominant ideologies—goals that the most conservative scholars and students resist. ... The real dispute is whether or not this isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be. Just as the media must remain “liberal” enough to question and challenge political authority, universities are, in fact, one of the remaining bastions of liberal thinking. Conservative beliefs and attitudes already dominate the political, religious, and social spheres in America (not to mention public school boards around the country), and it’s quite obvious that these recent attacks on “liberal academia” are an attempt to spread that dominant influence into our colleges and universities. So let’s be clear on where and why the battle lines are being drawn.

Another commentator also believed that self-selection was a factor in creating a liberal-conservative imbalance. But he did not put it down to 'smart people choosing a smart career'. He argued that liberals and conservatives diverged in their job choices because they valued different kinds of careers.

there also is the issue of the pool for recruitment. Why are there no conservatives? Probably because conservatives tend to seek private sector jobs that pay more. In every field, the liberals are those paid the least. In physics or political science or english, teaching faculty are paid significantly less than those finding either private sector jobs or those in academic administration. So, the pool for junior faculty is more liberal because conservatives get higher paying positions in the private sector. Inside the university, conservatives become administrators (and again, are paid more).

To this way of thinking, each political persuasion creates its own ghetto by self-selection in which a liberalism is as unlikely to be found in some settings as conservativism in others. But while this may be the case it would be different from formally requiring a political point of view as a pre-requisite for entering into a career.