The congressional hearings in Washington last month exposed the radical views that are held and promulgated by many institutions of higher education. Former presidents Liz Magill at Penn and Claudine Gay at Harvard did not survive the fallout from those hearings where they failed to denounce calls for genocide as a violation of university policy.
While some are familiar with the progressive agendas pushed by numerous universities across the country, many do not fully understand what is really happening nor do they grasp the implications. What happens on college campuses directly impacts public schools locally and across the nation.
Stanley K. Ridgley, a Clinical Professor of Management at the LeBow College of Business at Drexel University, wrote a book last year, Brutal Minds, that describes in great detail what is occurring on college campuses and the detrimental effects on academia in general. He compares certain departments and offices to a brainwashing cult that preys upon vulnerable college students, particularly those who are struggling or insecure.
In the preface to his book, Ridgley states the premise. “A tale of how one of history’s great institutions — the American university — is undergoing an infiltration by an army of mediocrities whose goal is to destroy it as an institution of knowledge creation and replace it with an authoritarian organ of ideology and propaganda.”
The university presidents’ responses to the questions posed at the hearing were not surprising in light of Ridgley’s book. Much of higher education has been hijacked by radicals and their progressive agenda. And while higher education may have always leaned left, it was once a safe space for civil discourse and differing opinions. Today, students, faculty, and staff are often canceled if they state views that run contrary to the progressive narrative.
Universities are the institutions that graduate our future teachers, therapists, physicians, and school administrators. It is no secret that our public schools are failing a vast majority of students across the region and the country, and many minority and low-income students are suffering at a disproportionate rate. The national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, align with these agendas, supporting far-left organizations like Black Lives Matter.
The academic decline in American public education is not surprising when you look at the curricula taught in schools of education. For example, the University of Pennsylvania offers a master’s degree of education in literacy. It seems logical that an Ivy League school would teach a curriculum that focuses on the pedagogy — the method and practice of teaching — of reading and writing.
Based on Penn’s graduate catalog, the program offers only one such course. Yet their literacy program description offers a glimpse into their unabashed agenda. “Inquiry-based master’s program for educators and reading specialists committed to educational change and social justice.The Literacy Studies master’s is an interdisciplinary program focused on the study of literacy and language from sociopolitical, cultural, psychological, historical, and linguistic perspectives.” (Emphasis added)
For one of the most elite universities in the country to be focused on “social justice” when barely over 50 percent of Pennsylvania public school students are proficient in reading and writing is tragic. While the graduate program may expect that their students learned these skills in their undergraduate work, the reality is that far too many children are not learning to read and write proficiently.
The master’s program could be focused on evidence-based reading pedagogy — teaching teachers how to teach reading so that every child leaves school reading proficiently. Instead the program requires courses entitled, “Forming and Reforming the Elementary Reading/Writing/Literacy Curriculum.” The course description on Penn’s website reads, “students explore the theory and practice of constructivist approaches to teaching reading/writing/talking across the curriculum. They read widely and discuss issues that are informed by theory and research in many fields of inquiry including children’s and adolescent literature, educational linguistics, cognitive psychology, curriculum, and anthropology and assessment. They write and share integrative journals; develop, teach and reflect upon holistic lessons; and complete an individual or group project of their own choosing.”
There is no mention of the “science of reading” or evidence-based practices to teach and assess reading skills. Rather, this course and others appear designed to explore, discuss, write, share, and reflect upon various theories and practices. If we want children to learn to read in elementary school, universities must prepare teachers to effectively provide reading instruction.
Real “social justice” comes from giving every student the skills to read and write effectively.
When asked about the impact of higher education on K-12 schools, Ridgley said, “the negative cascade effect of horrendous Schools of Education in the universities will be felt for at least another decade. If we were to begin today to vet and scrub Education Schools of the alien ideology of ‘critical pedagogy,’ it would still take much time to reform these institutions. We’ve let them have their way for too long, and we see the unsurprising negative effects in K-12.”
The progressive agenda in schools of education extends into other curricular areas, including social studies. Temple University requires this course, Social Studies for the Early Years, for elementary education majors. The lengthy description follows and I apologize in advance for including the entire description but it is necessary to make the point.
“The main focus of this course is to develop an understanding of the development of social skills and how they lay the critical foundation for civic and citizenship skills and habits, which are necessary for being a citizen in a democracy. The course will cover the important theories of social education and the developmental course of learning history, economics, civics, and geography. Woven throughout the class will be a discussion of culture and diversity as children encounter the world. A unique emphasis is on the children’s social development from pre-K to grade 4. There has been a dramatic shift in how young children understand cultural universals, the core of the early childhood social studies curriculum. These new theoretical understandings are slowly being translated into effective classroom practices. Through current readings and class discussion the following questions will be addressed: What do young children understand about cultural universals (e.g., food, clothing, shelter)? How will we prepare young children for a world in which respect for the environment, diversity, and the principles of democracy have become increasingly important? How can activities be developed that embody the principles of children’s concept development in history, economics, geography, and citizenship? How can we create learning experiences that include and value all children’s backgrounds?”
This excessively long-winded course description is not as brazen as Penn’s statement about social justice, but much of the jargon points in exactly the same direction. Phrases such as “social skills,” “social education,” “culture and diversity as children encounter the world,” “new theoretical understandings” are red flags for a progressive agenda that has little to do with teaching social studies, government, or history.
Perhaps the teachers who graduated from this school and others are partially responsible for teaching misconceptions about historical facts. For example, the Economist recently published a study that 20 percent of young people believe that the Holocaust is a myth. The author suggests that social media may be to blame for this phenomenon, but I believe that the radical teacher-preparation programs on college campuses may actually be the culprit. When universities are preparing teachers to enter the workforce and focusing more on social constructs than the actual pedagogy of instruction, our students pay the price.
Fixing our failing public schools is a complex issue that must be addressed through a comprehensive and cohesive set of strategies. One of those strategies must include a critical analysis of the nation’s teacher preparation programs to determine whether they are truly preparing teachers to help our students meet not only minimum standards but to reach their highest potential. Until the universities focus on evidence-based pedagogy, our public schools are destined to fail.
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at email@example.com.