The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is riled up about the apparent ideological litmus test implicit in the Columbia University Teachers College Conceptual Framework. At first blush, I can see why. Inter alia, it apparently stipulates that students will have a commitment to “social justice” (normally a euphemism for redistribution) and agree that:
[S]ocial inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility.
I’m less sure after chatting with an old (and very lefty) friend who’s a grad student at the Teachers College. Her take is that this is more about cultivating a certain approach to education in the urban classrooms Columbia’s program specifically focuses on, rather than announcing “Republicans need not apply.” Which is to say, they’re trying to counteract the attitude that not a few jaded teachers end up with: “Some of these kids are just incorrigibly lazy, don’t care about learning, and there’s nothing to be done with them.” That said, I think the specific wording is unfortunate—perhaps just because so many of the people crafting mission statements like these are enmeshed enough in the left that they don’t get how much it sounds like a litmus test for progressive politics—and in particular needs to ditch the suggestion that “individual responsibility” is some kind of codeword for bigotry. Obviously, you don’t want to convey to kids the message that society is so hopelessly stacked against them that there’s no point, or fall into some “soft bigotry of low expectations” trap. But presumably at a pedagogical rather than a political level, effective teachers in urban classrooms will need to understand the obstacles many of their students from poor families will face that distinguish them from, and might require a different approach than, your modal Choate or Dalton student. My friends analogy here was to a medical school adopting as a professional credo the principle that “all patients deserve excellent healthcare,” which needn’t be read as an endorsement of nationalized healthcare.
The ultimate test, of course, is how students are treated and whether they’re being penalized in some way for political views, rather than merely exhorted to be conscious of the variety of difficulties different students may face. I suppose some people might just have the view that there are no such differential difficulties exist, like the Washington State Student Fire mentions who believed that “white privilege and male privilege do not exist.” My sympathy here is fairly limited, insofar as we’re out of “differing political policy views” territory and into the realm of “detached from reality in ways that would plausibly affect your pedagogical ability.” The extent of this sort of inequality, and the proper response to it, seem like fit subjects for debate. Whether it exists at all does not. I mean, you’re entitled to the view that the earth is 6,000 years old, but save the crocodile tears if geology departments aren’t lining up to award you a doctorate.
In any event, my friend’s suspicion: “They are too desperate for good teachers to make it a pissing contest.” One hopes. But as I suggested, if this isn’t a political litmus test, they could tweak the wording to make that clear.