Beware the words “social justice” and “dispositions” when used by schools of education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). These apparently harmless terms lay the groundwork for politicizing the training of teachers and giving the ed schools an excuse to eliminate conservatives from their programs. The news this week is that NCATE is backing down a bit from its use of “dispositions” and “social justice” while denying the political use of these words and calling its new policy a “clarification.”
“Dispositions” refers to the correct mindset that would-be teachers must have. “Social justice” is the most controversial of the dispositions sought. In its benign sense, “social justice” means a sense of fairness, honesty and a belief that all children can learn. In its politicized sense, it can refer to endorsement of affirmative action and a formal (often written) endorsement of policies favored by the political and cultural left.
“NCATE never required a ‘social justice’ disposition”, NCATE said on its web site. True, but the statement is a slippery one. In fact, the group had ruled that education departments could “include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice” – in effect ruling that public school teachers could be evaluated on their perceptions of what social justice requires. So the ed schools, basically a liberal monoculture, could rule that a student flunked “social justice” by displaying a negative view of multicultural theory and other policies of the left. At Washington State University, where the college of education tried to expel a conservative student for flunking “dispositions,” the dean was asked whether Justice Antonin Scalia could pass a dispositions test at her school. “I don’t know how to answer that,” she replied.
As NCATE tells it, “the term ‘social justice,’ though well understood by NCATE’s institutions, was widely and wildy misinterpreted by commentators not familiar with the working of NCATE.” The group now defines professional dispositions as “professional attitudes, values and beliefs demonstrated through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors. The two professional dispositions that NCATE expects institutions to assess are fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Based on their missions and conceptual framework, professional education units can identify, define and operationalize additional professional dispositions.”
This is a mild improvement. Still, one wonders about those “non-verbal behaviors” and how they will be judged. The word “fairness” remains a linguistic sinkhole and the phrase “additional professional dispositions” keeps the door open for more politicization. NCATE’s “clarification” doesn’t clarify much.