Phi Beta Cons

Social Justice Weatherman Style

A backlash is brewing against the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education’s (NCATE) decision, last June, to drop “social justice” as one of the “dispositions” it suggests education schools employ in assessing aspiring teachers. The protest, which surfaced at a recent business meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), was led by an assembly of activist scholars, including once Weatherman, now professor of education, William C. Ayres. The aggrieved, who were also upset by AERA’s unwillingness to insert detailed injunctions against anti-gay sentiments in its own diversity standards, pushed for AERA to officially rebuke NCATE. Although both AERA’s departing and incoming presidents expressed sympathy with the protest, the association declined to act on the grounds that it was inappropriate “except in the rarest of circumstances” for it to comment on the positions of another organizations. Notable during the debate, however, was a comment from a representative of NCATE itself, Senior Vice President Donna M. Gollnick to the effect that “we would welcome the kind of statement that you’re calling for. It would be very helpful to us as we think through our standards to have statements from professional organizations about what we ought to expect in teacher education related to sexual orientation and gender identity”.
When NCATE announced the elimination of “social justice” from its assessment protocols, it did so amidst a chorus of disavowals that the phrase was anything other than the blandest of bromides. Who, after all, doesn’t believe in social justice? Gollnick’s words will be worth remembering should NCATE ever decide to backtrack or, for that matter, the next time anyone tries to fool the innocent with this shabby and evasive dodge.    

Stephen H. Balch was the founding president of the National Association of Scholars. In 2007 he received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush.