Monday, May 02, 2005

Cultural Competence

Cultural Competence is in the news again today. Perhaps you've caught wind of the growing controversy. If not, here's the background:

A bill in the legislature which recently passed the Senate would require the state to create "cultural competence standards" for teachers that they would have to meet in order to get a teaching license. Obviously, that brings up the critical question: what do they mean by cultural competence, anyway?

On that topic, I wrote the following in Brainstorm Magazine:

A Culture of Uniformity
People want schools to focus on the traditional academic skills. Why do the public education elites insist on focusing on everything but that?

It's a century-old battle that dates back to the days of John Dewey, father of progressive education. Although the public just want academics, progressive educators don't try to hide the fact that they want to use the schools to re-shape society. In Dewey' day, it was in vogue to be a socialist, and Dewey and his band of progressives knew that the schools would be critical to their effort to mold society to their vision.

At Dewey's Columbia Teachers College, and at the hundreds of schools of education that are modeled after it, the coursework is overtly political, rife with classes on diversity, oppression, gender and ethnic studies, discrimination and social change. Students who don’t accept the humanistic/liberal worldview are basically shunned.

So when we wonder why the public schools push social transformation rather than academics, we only have to look at the teachers colleges, which for a century now have been minting the nations teachers.

In the days of Dewey, you could be an openly socialist Bolshevik sympathizer (as he was) and not be shunned in polite society. So they could openly discuss their plans to use the schools establish their utopian social reforms. These days, the education elites have to be more sneaky.

But occasionally they do or say something that reveals what they think. A few months back I took to task Dr. Peter Cookson, Dean of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education, who wrote a revealing Oregonian commentary. In the piece, Cookson said reading and math were "antiquated knowledge," and said that schools should instead teach, among other things "all Oregonians to be culturally competent."

Cultural competence - remember this phrase, because you"ll be hearing it more and more. It is the latest banner under which the education priesthood is flying their social change schemes. They know that if they were open and honest about their plans, the public would never stand for them. So they keep the target moving, constantly re-naming their cause with another feel-good vague moniker.

The last one - diversity- has pretty much run its course. The gig is up - the general public realizes it was just another name for the same old politically correct agenda. So now they're pushing "cultural competence."

Who could be against cultural competence? It sounds so bland and non-controversial. But they have a problem: in order to establish all the institutional infrastructure such as certification requirements, curricula and teacher training programs necessary for cultural competency to fully permeate the public schools, they have to actually sit down and define what they are talking about and lay out some plans. That gives people like me a chance to listen in, and pull back the curtain.

Last May, the Oregon Department of Education got started with the "Invitational Summit on Cultural Competency," held (where else?) at Dr. Cookson's Lewis & Clark All the usual suspects were there, and the good news is that when they think they are talking amongst themselves, they almost always reveal too much.

The first order of business at the Summit was to define cultural competence. Most people would be very comfortable with the notion that teachers should be able to teach kids of all cultures, and if this is what it means, no problem. But the Summit participants rejected this definition of cultural competence.

Instead, they said cultural competence means "advocating for equity and social justice," and that the definition they agreed upon needed to incorporate "institutionalized notions of power, privilege, and oppression." And so, in the Summit's "Revised Definition of Cultural Competence," the very first sentence reads: "Cultural Competence is based on a commitment to social justice and equity."

So there you have it. Their own words -- cultural competence has nothing to do with teaching culturally diverse kids to read, write and do sums. It's a political movement to transform society based on openly Marxist notions of social justice.

This would be just a tragically funny waste of time and money if they weren't so deadly serious about forcing cultural competency down the throats of an unsuspecting public. The Summit laid out a five year plan for how to do it, and we recently saw the first step: legislation to require teachers to meet "cultural competency standards."

Senate Bill 50 does just that: it would require applicants for teaching licenses to meet cultural competency standards. The standards, of course, will be developed by folks such as those at the Summit. The bill easily passed the Senate (eight Republican Senators voted in favor of it,) and now sits in the house.

Unless the bill is killed in the house, there will be an ideological litmus test to become a teacher in Oregon. If you don’t prove your fidelity to social justice and equity, no license.
And this is just the beginning; their five year plan touches virtually every facet of education, from kindergarten through higher education. You can read it yourself - right off the Department of Education's website.

And mysteriously, public support for public education erodes.

Copyright April 2005 BrainstormNW Magazine

Well, when my column hit the streets, I could tell I hit the mark because they really screeched and scattered. They tried to run away from the Summit's definition of cultural competence, and claimed that it's just about trying to make sure all kids get educated.

I wrote a follow-up in my next Brainstorm column, which goes to print next week. When it does, I'll paste it into the blog.

Meanwhile, Susan Castillo's chief of staff, Ed Dennis, tried to defend his boss's honor by sending an e-mail out to his "undisclosed recipient" list. The e-mail whined about me mischaracterizing what they meant by cultural competence (all I did was transcribe their own definition) and went on to say:

"I worry when our institutions of higher education are attacked in this way. Does this not create its own free speech infringements when campuses may fear public criticism....?"

Huh? So the political expression of individuals in the media should be silenced because it might produce a chilling effect on government institutions? This guy is a highly placed public official. Can you imaging a more errant understanding of the 1st amendment? Yet these are the people in charge.

And take Dr. Peter Cookson (now referred to on the blogosphere as Kook-son.) This guy is the HEAD of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education. Today he wrote a rebuttal to our criticism of cultural competence, printed in the Oregonian.

I won't paste the whole thing in here - you can go read it yourself
but there is one highlight that just has to be read.

After complaining that the critics of cultural competence are all wrong, that it is not about enforcing any particular ideology in our schools, just about making all kids achieve, he writes:

"I hope that in the coming years we will continue on the path of creating a just and excellent school system that graduates students who take a deep pride in themselves and their traditions, who have open and inquiring minds, who understand the importance of moral courage, and who are not prone to the rigid ideologies that undermine American democracy."

There it is! He admits it! ".... school system that graduates students who..... are not prone to the rigid ideologies that undermine American democracy."

A bald admission that in his opinion the main purpose of schools has nothing to do with academic achievement - but is to teach the correct ideology! Nowhere did he even so much as mention academic knowledge. Where is his yearn for graduates with a deep understanding of US history, the founding principles of our country, advanced math, chemistry, and science?

Truth be told, none of that matters to "progressive" educators like Cookson. After all, his last published piece in the Oregonian referred to reading and math as "antiquated skills." He knows he has to pretend he's all about academics, otherwise he'll lose creidbility with the public. But even while he is trying to rebut our claim that cultural competence is about ideology, he proves our point with his own words!

These are the people in charge of our schools. It is clear that the schools will never improve until people such as Cookson are exposed for the charlatans they are.


Instructivist said...

"Portland, Oregon is occupied territory. It was invaded years ago by a non-native species of political animal from back east who took over our political and cultural institutions in order to try out their utopian socialist dreams on our great state."

It sounds like the invasion of the pod people.

Hershel Kensinger said...

This is very informative. I hope to see more in the near future