University Of Minnesota Under Fire For Task Forces' Discrimination-Based Teacher Education Plan

January 2010

A branch of the University of Minnesota may require all education students at the school to understand and accept that they are either privileged or oppressed and that they be well-versed in issues like "white privilege," "institutional racism” and the "myth of meritocracy in the United States."

Critics are condemning the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, which proposes making race, class and gender issues the "overarching framework" of all teaching courses.

The task group, formed as part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative at the state university, aims to change how future teachers are trained, based on the assertion that the teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to minority students' poor grades.

The group is one of seven task forces that university spokesman Dan Wolter says are examining "a whole range of issues dealing with how teachers are educated."

"This is a rather long-term comprehensive overhaul of our teaching education programs," Wolter told

But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says the Race, Culture, Class and Gender group is going beyond addressing how teachers are educated and is trying instead to mandate their beliefs and values.

"Unlike what many schools of education have in terms of cultural competence, this task group really wants to invade the minds of future teachers and demand that they hold the 'right' values, attitudes and beliefs about society, about themselves, and about race, class, culture, and gender, to a degree to which it really violates the freedom of conscience of future teachers," Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, told

Kissel wrote a letter last week urging the university to reject the group's proposal on the premise that "as a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the university is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right."

But Wolter said FIRE has it all wrong.

"It's not at all what they're suggesting — that it's some sort of litmus test — it's just making sure that teachers are prepared to deal with the different situations that they might have for each and every student — which has been a challenge in the past," he said. "Teachers obviously come from one perspective, so if they've got 15 other people of different backgrounds in their classrooms it's a completely different situation."

Some of the proposed curriculum requirements are:

  • "Future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, hetero-normativity, and internalized oppression."
  • Teachers will be able to articulate a "critical analysis of this story of America, for what it illuminates and what it hides or distorts" including:
    • "myth of meritocracy in the United States"
    • "historical connections between scientific racism, intelligence testing, and assumptions of fixed mental capacity"
    • "alternative explanations for mobility (and lack of it)"
    • "history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values"
    • "history of white racism, with special focus on current colorblind ideology"
  • "Future teachers are able to explain how institutional racism works in schools" and recognize that "schools and classrooms are often structured in ways that advantage and disadvantage some groups but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation."

But while some teachers might want to be instruments of "social and cultural transformation," Kissel says, "Some might just want to teach math."

"The idea is if you don't have the right views then we're going to give you remedial classes, and if we still can't turn you to the right views, then we're not going to give you your credential," he said.

Kissel also took issue with some of the assignments students would have to complete.

"They must reveal a 'pervasive stereotype' they personally held about an identity group, and evidently must argue in a personal essay that this view has now been 'challenged' on the basis of their experiences with that identity group. So if you say, 'well, actually I don't have a pervasive stereotype' … you're probably going to get a bad grade," he said.

As for how university professors will learn to assign those grades, the report proposes "required training/workshop for all supervisors."

"Every faculty member at our university that trains our teachers must comprehend and commit to the centrality of race, class, culture, and gender issues in teaching and learning, and consequently, frame their teaching and course foci accordingly," it says.

Constitutional attorney Steve Greenberg says that the task group's plan, if implemented as written, will violate student and teacher rights.

"They're telling people you have to look back on these feelings that you have, whether you have them or not — if you don't have them you better find them — and then you better address them this way, and then after going through step B, step C is that you have to look at the world through this viewpoint," Greenberg said.

"You can say it's not a litmus test, because if you say it's a litmus test you have a problem. But the truth of the matter is — it's a litmus test," he said.

Wolter, addressing those concerns, said: "I think this kind of discussion that the FIRE group and others have raised — we think they're helpful to this process, because this still is a dynamic process that's underway. So hearing people's thoughts is important to us as well, as the final product is being shaped."

For Kissel, that's not enough.

"What we're saying is that these plans are so in violation of freedom of conscience that the college should start reversing course now."

Wolter said the recommendations will be going through a deliberative process.

"In general, the college will focus discussion during spring term on the key elements of the program and will have components of the curriculum ready for review by the college Curriculum Council by late spring or at the beginning of next fall term," he said.

He said the University of Minnesota hopes to be ready to admit prospective students into its redesigned program by fall of 2011.