Monday, June 20, 2005

Back to School for Hyman

Mark Hyman continues his jihad against institutions of higher learning in New York City as he shifts his focus from the Bronx Community College to Brooklyn College. (Hyman calls it “Brooklyn Community College,” but it in fact is not a community college—just one of many facts Hyman gets wrong or ignores in this commentary).

Actually, his focus is on one class in one department: a course in the School of Education. But that doesn’t stop him from making sweeping generalizations about the department the course is part of, the college, or even the national organization that accredits the college’s School of Education.

The problems with Hyman’s commentary stem from the fact that he apparently only uses a single source for his commentary. (Admittedly, that’s one more than he often uses, but it would be nice to see someone working for one of the largest and most diversified media corporations in America dig up a confirming source for his allegations.

Hyman’s commentary is a Reader’s Digest version of a story printed last month in the
New York Sun, a paper known for its conservative slant. (This by itself doesn’t invalidate the story, but it should be a cue to look into the facts before passing judgment.) The paper ran a feature story on a young professor at Brooklyn College (unlike Hyman, the Sun at least gets the name of the school right) who had come under fire for saying that standard English was the “language of oppressors” and preaching the virtues of Ebonics. According to Hyman, students complained about this radical agenda and “claimed they were retaliated against by the administration.”

Moreover, Hyman suggests that the problem goes far beyond Brooklyn College. The college’s “radical” approach to teaching is a response to a mandate from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. According to Hyman, the NCATE is foisting a narrow-minded, politically correct agenda on institutions and students, and if students complain, they are unfairly punished for speaking up by the powers that be.

Powerful stuff. Too bad it’s a complete mischaracterization of reality.

First, a brief look at Hyman’s source material, the piece in the New York Sun, reveals that the disgruntled students (all two of them) were punished not because they voiced opposition to their professor’s views, but because they committed plagiarism on an assignment. (Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Hyman, the erstwhile champion in the war for academic integrity, is now reduced to defending plagiarists!)

Second, it appears from what others have said who have looked into the matter that the stuff about English being the language of the oppressors and Ebonics being great
came from readings that were part of the course materials, not necessarily beliefs that the course instructor said students should or must believe.

Still, presenting these poor young students with such radical ideas isn’t fair, right? I mean, they just wanted to get a teaching degree…they had no way of knowing they might be presented with material dealing with politically charged issues like racism in the course of their studies at Brooklyn College, right?

Well, actually they did. That brings us to the whole NCATE issue. The
NCATE asks schools of education that wish to be accredited to formulate a sort of mission statement that publicly affirms how they as an institution approach the art of teaching—the philosophy they want to impart on students receiving degrees from their institution.

In the case of Brooklyn College, their statement reads in part as follows:

“We educate teacher candidates and other school personnel about issues of social injustice such as institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism.”

Given this public statement of purpose, students choosing to attend Brooklyn College should be surprised (and have cause to complain) if they did *not* get a fair amount of politically aware material in their coursework. The disgruntled students did (or should have) been aware of this when choosing their program, and it seems more than a little unfair to criticize the school for providing exactly what its public mission statement promises.

But, Hymanites will say, that’s just the problem! The NCATE, being a group of pointy-headed academics, is obviously a radical group that will not accredit schools unless they come up with a similarly politically correct guiding philosophy.

Again, a little research can go a long way. A brief trip over to the NCATE website gives you a chance to look over some sample statements from other accredited institutions. One thing you’ll find is that the type of political language in Brooklyn College’s statement is fairly rare—it’s in no way mandated by the NCATE, and only a relatively small percentage of schools of education use anything like this sort of language.

To take just one obvious example, on the
NCATE website, you can find examples of “conceptual frameworks” from institutions such as Our Lady of Holy Cross College, whose education program is accredited by the NCATE. While Brooklyn College states that its program will focus on relating teaching to certain political issues (racism, sexism, etc.), OLHCC’s language is markedly different:

OLHCC’s philosophy is rooted in the fundamental belief that education flourishes
in a community motivated by a Catholic/Christian vision, Gospel values, and a
commitment to the education of the total person.

And later . . .

The Teacher-Education Programs at OLHCC enable the students to develop
intellectually and spiritually by providing, within a Christian Framework, the
opportunity to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to become
a competent teacher in a multicultural society.

Not exactly “politically correct” (at least not in the way folks like Hyman tend to use the term).

So, to put this in perspective: for students to complain about being exposed to political ideas at Brooklyn College’s teacher education program is a bit like someone going to OLHCC and whining that they’re being indoctrinated into a religious belief system because (*gasp!*) the teachers there openly talk about their belief in God and their Christian values and (*double-gasp!*) dare suggest to their students that such principles play a role in developing a philosophy of how to approach the job of teaching.

I presume that should such a student manage to get his or her complaint printed in a major newspaper, Hyman would mock said student for being a silly pudding who is obviously thickheaded and/or unreasonable to expect a college to abandon its publicly stated principles because a student or two disagrees with some of the ideas. And Hyman would be right to do so.

But when the stated philosophy is one that Hyman disagrees with (let’s table for the moment why being against racism, sexism, and classism is considered radical or politically correct), it’s somehow the fault of the teacher for bringing this philosophy into the classroom, the college for publicly holding such a philosophy, or the accrediting institution for sanctioning this philosophy (despite the fact that it also sanctions a widely diverse group of alternative philosophies as well)—not the fault of the couple of students (intellectually dishonest ones, at that) who freely chose to attend this particular institution and pursue this particular program.

And all this from an adherent of conservatism—a philosophy based on the idea that any regulations or protections for consumers are anathema, that the free market will sort everything out, and that lawyers who fight for the rights of consumers in cases of corporate fraud or medical malpractice are profiteering ambulance chasers who are single-handedly driving entrepreneurs out of business and driving up insurance premiums.

Perhaps Hyman needs to reformulate his own “conceptual framework” into something that’s a bit more coherent and consistent.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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