Phi Beta Cons

Thought Reform at the University of Minnesota?

If you attend a public university or work for a public employer, and you ever hear the term “cultural competence,” it’s time to get your favorite constitutional lawyers on speed dial. Thought reform is incoming.  

Faced with stubborn educational achievement gaps, it looks like the University of Minnesota’s “Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group” believes the answer lies in forcing teachers to adopt a radically Leftist view of society (hat tip: Katherine Kersten): 

The [Task Group’s] report advocates making race, class and gender politics the “overarching framework” for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.

The first step toward “cultural competence,” says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize — and confess — their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the reeducation camps of China’s Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi.

And how does one create cultural competence? The first step is to confess your own sins:

The task group recommends, for example, that prospective teachers be required to prepare an “autoethnography” report. They must describe their own prejudices and stereotypes, question their “cultural” motives for wishing to become teachers, and take a “cultural intelligence” assessment designed to ferret out their latent racism, classism and other “isms.” They “earn points” for “demonstrating the ability to be self-critical.”

The task group opens its report with a model for officially approved confessional statements: “As an Anglo teacher, I struggle to quiet voices from my own farm family, echoing as always from some unstated standard. … How can we untangle our own deeply entrenched assumptions?”

If this program (as conceived) weren’t hideously unconstitutional, it would be breathtakingly silly (I suppose it can be both). For example, the ultimate goal

is to ensure that “future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.”

I suppose that achievement gaps aren’t caused by broken families, violence, and community cultures that sometimes stigmatize academic success as much as they are by teachers trapped in their own “heteronormativity.”

No thought control would be complete without a bit of compelled speech:

The task force recommends requiring “our future teachers” to “articulate a sophisticated and nuanced critical analysis” of this view of the American promise. In the process, they must incorporate the “myth of meritocracy in the United States,” the “history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values, [and] history of white racism, with special focus on current colorblind ideology.”

And, finally, remediation for noncompliance:

What if some aspiring teachers resist this effort at thought control and object to parroting back an ideological line as a condition of future employment? The task group has Orwellian plans for such rebels: The U, it says, must “develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan.”

As university officials consider this proposal, I would urge them to respect the fundamental First Amendment rights of their students and consider the admonition of the Supreme Court that if there is any “fixed star” in our “constitutional constellation,” it is that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”

Otherwise, you may want to beef up the “attorneys fees” line item in the school budget.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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