by James A. Bacon
I’ve been thinking about Jim Sherlock’s recent post, “Marxist Critical Theory and Education,” in which he asserts, “Marxist critical theory ideologues have taken over the Graduate Schools of Education.” In the post he explores the disturbing implications of the claim, but does not provide the evidence behind it. I would not be surprised in the slightest if the statement were true, particularly in the nation’s so-called “elite” institutions — the more elite the institution, the more leftist its orientation.
But I want to see the proof. As publisher of a Virginia blog, I want to know if schools and colleges of education here in Virginia have been taken over by leftist ideologues. I want to know the degree to which the next generation of Virginia teachers are being indoctrinated in leftist dogma.
What follows is an admittedly cursory survey based upon a scan of education school websites. I invite readers to dig deeper and contribute via comments or op-eds.
My quick, superficial finding is that most Virginia’s schools of education incorporate a commitment to inclusiveness, diversity and social justice to some degree. But they vary in the extent to which they seek to indoctrinate these values in their students. The Virginia Commonwealth University appears to be the most overtly ideological, explicitly committing itself to “eradicating structural and systemic racism.” At the other extreme, the emphasis at Virginia’s two historically black public universities appears to be educating students to become productive citizens, not to transform society.
Here follow highlights cribbed from the websites of Virginia’s schools of education.
Virginia Commonwealth University. Dean Andrew P. Daire prominently posts a statement on addressing systemic racism on the school’s website. Embracing the claim that the United States is afflicted by “ongoing, systemic, racist behavior against black people,” he declares that the school will support the anti-racist movement “with not just words, but actions.
We must ensure that … educators understand America’s history and the structural systems that uphold racism. We must ensure that our educators are aware of their own implicit biases, white fragility, racial innocence and colorblindness, and how these influence their actions, responses and interactions. We must ensure that our educators are prepared for meaningful conversation and teachable moments on race and racism. … We are not going to prepare successful educators who can have a positive impact in all communities unless we do more to help them understand and challenge the underlying structures that uphold racism in this country. We have to prepare anti-racist educators, leaders, and professionals.
We will continue to work toward better understanding implicit and institutional bias along with white fragility while we provide the opportunities for our school’s leadership to become anti-racist leaders.
Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee will provide training and learning opportunities for our faculty and staff on these issues.
We will work toward rooting out and addressing implicit and institutional biases that exist in our school through .. evaluation processes, searches, salary inequities, etc.
College of Education at James Madison University. The JMU school of education takes a global perspective on equity and justice. “As we commemorate our 100th year of service, the dehumanizing aspects of disease, malnourishment, poverty, bigotry, inequity and despair prevail in the lives of countless millions of the world’s inhabitants,” says the schools “Commitment to Diversity,” signed by Dean Phil Wishon.
Our most important challenge as educators and leaders is to discover what we can do to help societies of the world who would transform themselves. … What can we do to encourage and help prepare members of future generations of leaders to dedicate themselves to nourish the human spirit and to combat inequities wherever they exist? Helping our students, our colleagues, and our collaborative partners acquire greater cultural and global competence and a sense of moral purpose related thereto is a place to start.
The moral challenge of this moment—the commemoration of our college’s 100th anniversary— is to affirm and advance a compassionate concept of education, of leadership, and of society.
Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. States the school’s home page: “At the Curry School, we believe that the study of equity, inclusion and race is an integral part of the study of education.” The school supports several research centers, labs and project “that are actively research how to address the needs of a culturally diverse society.”
One program, the Center for Race and Public Education in the South, “conducts and supports empirical research on a variety of issues that lie at the intersection of race, education, and schooling in the southern United States. … [The Center] illuminates the causes, consequences, and potential means of ameliorating disparities in African American youth’s [sic] experiences and achievement.”
Another project, “Teachers in the Movement,” conducts interviews with educators of different races and backgrounds regarding their participation in the Civil Rights movement. The purpose is to “bring their stories to light.”
A third project, Youth-Nex, focuses on promoting “effective youth development” by applying the science of Positive Youth Development to enhance the strengths of youth and to prevent developmental risk such as violence; physical and mental health issues; substance abuse and school failure. As program director Nancy L. Deutsch writes, “Youth development issues are social justice issues. Only through engaging and ensuring supportive developmental opportunities for all youth equitable can society advance.”
While Curry School programs appear to be informed by social justice values, and it can be reasonably assumed that professors and instructors will share and impart those values, the website does not indicate an explicit intention to indoctrinate students in a social-justice mindset.
George Mason College of Education and Human Development. The college website cites five core values: collaboration, ethical leadership, innovation, research-based practices, and social justice.
Social justice embodies essential principles of equity and access to all opportunities in society, in accordance with democratic principles and respect for all persons and points of view. We commit ourselves to promoting equity, opportunity, and social justice through the college’s operations and its missions related to teaching, research, and service.
In practice that means, “Students … are challenged to explore issues of poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and gender and remain cognizant of the socio historical factors that may have resulted in systemic inequities in early care and education. … The program’s instructional format allows students to examine their biases.”
Longwood University College of Education & Human Services. Longwood’s website says this: “Founded upon cooperative relationships, socially responsible values and sensitivity to individuals and community needs, we produce professionals who promote student learning … community involvement [and] effective strategies that close the academic achievement and skills gap required to ethically serve people in a diverse society.”
Closing the racial gap in academic achievement is a worthy goal that most Virginians would endorse, especially if it is informed by identifying and applying best practices to improve the quality of instruction. Again, the question is what the vague rhetoric means in practice.
To get a sense of what is meant, see the backgrounder to a webinar given by Marsha Rutledge, assistant professor of counseling education, has to say:
As the re-imagining of schools, academic processes, and in-class experiences are being discussed across America because of COVID-19, now is the time to really begin dismantling inequities and systemic policies and procedures that have negatively impacted Black students and students of color.
We were able to provide for an open and honest conversation about systemic racism and how it shows up in schools. We were also able to share with our listeners the importance of social justice and advocacy work. … there are educators who are ready for change. … We must work hard to support our students AND school counselors of color through the issues that are plaguing our country, especially since there are several happening simultaneously. … The information shared can be used to open the door toward changing the narratives that are projected throughout the institutional structures currently in place across the United States.
College of William & Mary School of Education. The school website emphasizes its commitment to teaching excellence and innovation. Here’s how the website describes the school’s commitment to equity and inclusion:
The faculty, staff, and students of the School of Education value inclusiveness and equity of opportunities for diverse learners. We promote attitudes and beliefs that foster faculty members’ and students’ understanding of self and diverse others through curriculum, instruction, research, and focused learning activities. These values also guide our internal governance as well as our partnership with educational institutions and other community agencies. Advocacy for diverse learners informs instructional, clinical, and policy decisions with the purpose of impacting our students and the constituents they will serve.
It’s difficult to interpret what such vague verbiage might mean when applied in practice.
Virginia Tech School of Education. From the school’s website: “The school promotes rigorous inquiry in all aspects of its teaching, research, and outreach, provides the leadership necessary to advance all educational systems, and engages in advocacy that ensures equity and accessibility to quality learning experiences for all members of a diverse and global community.”
The home page does not highlight any of the school’s “advocacy” but does link to a profile of Kirsten Gehsmann, the school’s new director. “I want our students to see themselves as agents of change,” says Gehsmann. The story adds that she is “focused on equity along with innovation.”
An equity focus is mandatory in higher education today. But Gehsmann appears to be interested mainly in exploring the future of education. Says she: “Education is a field where things don’t just stay the same. They’re constantly evolving and changing, and I like to be on the cutting edge. As teacher educators, we need to focus on preparing our students to teach in schools we can only dream of today.”
Darden College of Education at Old Dominion University. The Darden web pages does not highlight any diversity/social justice initiatives. The university’s strategic plan emphasizes “research, teaching, and service activities that reflect our commitment to excellence, innovation and transformation.” The vision, goals and objectives made no mention of social justice. (A squib on ODU President John R. Broderick, does describe him as “a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion.”)
University of Mary Washington College of Education. Although UMW has developed a niche as a small college for socially aware students, the College of Education website has nothing to say on the topic of social justice. A letter from Dean Pete Kelly merely describes a curriculum designed to meet the needs of all students, including English language learners and students with handicaps.
Norfolk State University. As a historically black university, Norfolk State University administrators apparently feel no need to reassure students of their commitment to diversity and social justice. The School of Education website mentions these purposes:
- To contribute to the knowledge base in the field of educational theory and practice in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial world.
- To provide leadership in involving public schools, universities and communities in collaborative educational efforts.
- To provide service to other agencies engaged in education in such a manner to promote the realization of equal educational opportunity and equal educational results for all children.
Virginia State University. As Virginia’s other historically black university, Virginia State University also sees no need to marinate itself in the rhetoric of diversity and social justice. The College of Education provides this mission statement:
Creating a positive learning environment for all students and using evidence-based performance standards to develop reflective practitioners are central to the College of Education’s mission. The College of Education promotes and maintains academic programs with research-based pedagogy, technology-based learning, and reflective practices that integrate service to the community, ever mindful of the students’ diverse cultural backgrounds. The College of Education is the Unit that prepares quality graduates who become productive members of the Local Community, the State of Virginia, and the Nation.
That last sentence bears repeating: The goal is to prepare graduates “to become productive members” of the community, the state and the nation — not to restructure society.
The University of Virginia-Wise. The education department at UVa-Wise, set in Wise County in far southwest Virginia, serves the overwhelmingly white demographic of central Appalachia. The Education Department website says nothing about equity or social justice, just preparing “future teachers to meet the needs of our children as they face an ever-increasingly complex world. “There are currently no comments highlighted.