Saturday, January 9, 2010

Katherine Kersten and the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative

Joel Monka asked what I thought of At U, future teachers may be reeducated, a response to Minnesota's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group (pdf) preliminary report. Katherine Kersten (whose middle initial I would love to know) is a Michelle Bachman apologist, the sort of rightwinger who would argue in earlier times that freedom means slaveowners should be free to own people and the state should be free to prevent citizens of different races from marrying.

But no one is ever completely wrong about everything. The Minnesota report has problems. Its writers accept the ideology that Thandeka critiques so well in Why Anti-Racism Will Fail. Some examples of their goals: "Our 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." "Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege." "Future teachers are able to explain how institutional racism works in schools." They promote the artificial social construction of race by recommending Janet Helms' A race is a nice thing to have: a guide to being a white person or understanding the white persons in your life. They speak of "white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values" as though middle-class Jews and blacks don't share those values.

The report makes token mentions of class, but its writers seem to assume the word refers to poor people of color. To them, the world is divided between white suburban schools and urban schools "of color" rather than schools in poor districts and schools in wealthy ones. They seem to have no idea that black and white middle class students have more in common with each other than with black and white lower class students. (I suspect they would have the usual anti-racist indifference to that facts that almost 40% of black Americans believe there are now two black races, a poor one and a richer one, and that in the US today, poverty is approximately 3% Asian, 25% black, 23% Hispanic, and 49% white.)

On the positive side, they recommend Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, a book that I would happily make required reading in every high school. They're right that people need to learn about the cultures they encounter—that's not political correctness, that's common courtesy. The USA has a problem. Unfortunately, ideological anti-racists have the wrong answer.

Next post: In praise of Thandeka's Why Anti-Racism Will Fail.