13.6.05

THE CULTURAL COMPETENCE FOLLIES. University Diaries found a point-counterpoint in the Salem (Oregon) Statesman-Journal in which a state legislator makes a pertinent observation about the University of Oregon's cultural competency initiative.

Before we require teachers to be culturally competent, we need to know what it is, how you measure it, if it is just another educational trend that will be discredited in the future, and how much it will cost.

In the meantime, we need to use proven methods to close the achievement gap. High expectations of all students, high standards for students and teachers, and rewards for the many, many excellent teachers we now have -- and respect for each and every person.
In private correspondence, an Oregon faculty member asked me for suggestions in bringing the reservations some faculty members raised to the attention of the legislature. It appears as if the author of this essay, Rep. Linda Flores of Oregon City, who chairs the state House Education Committee, is someone who is sympathetic to the objections. A professor of education suggests that cultural competence is simply part of effective teaching (but differences in learning style exist among sub-populations as well as within them, nicht wahr?) and worthy of further consideration.

Let the battle be over how we define cultural competency, not the need for it.
OK. Cultural competence means being able to show up on time, finish your tasks on time, and look like you know what you're doing. Let's continue from there.

So what's up at Oregon? The six-year graduation rates at Oregon flirt with 60%, which is not that impressive, although it is above the national average, and the disparities among populations are not as pronounced as they are elsewhere, for example at Northern Illinois. Some of the arguments being offered for the initiative don't appear to make much sense given the comparable defect rates among sub-populations. Wouldn't it make more sense for the Oregon administrators to deal honestly with their 40% defect rate, or push for a higher four-year completion rate? Consider this. That just might work. The reservations Betsy's Page picks up from Joanne Jacobs suggest that what Oregon is considering will not work. The points do call for a bit of fisking.

  • Exhibits capacity to promote equity of student access and outcomes.

    This is a classic canard. Will a faculty member be called on the carpet for suggesting that admitting unprepared students and calling it "access" does not make much academic sense? Will the Office of Harrison Bergeron be evaluating grades to make sure that there are no under- or over-represented populations on the "A" list or on probation?


  • Advocates for social justice.

    That's not as easy as it looks. Consider Wikipedia's observations.
    The concept of Social justice has been politicised and it is sometimes stated proactively as being the promotion of equality through comprehensive government action. In practice, such interventions have not often produced equitable results, resulting in favouritism towards classes of people, restrictions of personal liberty and excessive regulatory burdens. Many critics regard the guarantee of equal outcomes, which is implicit in many social justice movements, as antithetical to the notion of equal opportunity because it frequently requires special, favoured treatment to arbitrary classes of people. Actual justice, they argue, does not penalize success nor reward failure, but holds all persons to the same standards regardless of their race, ethnic origin, financial condition, religion or beliefs.
    Where is the justice in requiring the faculty to be sensitive to differences in learning styles that correlate with ascriptive characteristics, or in requiring students to learn queer theory, if 1 + rt/1! + (rt)2/2! + (rt)3/3! + (rt)4/4! + ... has no meaning to finance majors?


  • Ability to identify, discuss, and challenge institutional racism and bias.

    Oceania grapples with Eastasia, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. One would think that after 30 or 40 years of making "commitment to affirmative action principles" and all that came after preconditions for administrative positions and implicit in "fit" there would be no institutional racism remaining. Biases, on the other hand ... can you say "self-referential?" Are these Silent Generation relics so unsure of their own commitment to their version of "social justice" that everybody else must be alert to their remaining failings?


  • Ability to receive and integrate critiques of cultural competence.


  • "Plays well with others" dressed up as a salary review? And so it goes on.

    Betsy's Page gets to the plain meaning of the plan.
    This is scary. These are all non-objective standards that can be twisted to mean that anyone could be described as "incompetent" in their devotion to cultural diversity. No wonder the professors were very upset about this plan. This newspeak in the plan sounds like a way to punish professors who don't pass all their students with grades distributed equally among racial groups. And if any little darling complains that their professor didn't measure up on one of these criteria, kiss good-bye to tenure.
    The little darlings, on the other hand, might be left professionally incompetent in the service of an untested theory.

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