Posts tagged ‘religious right’


This article originally appeared in The Nation on February 2, 2010.

The curriculum for education students at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is undergoing a makeover to improve the content taught to future teachers. One task group’s suggestion that students learn “cultural competency” has become controversial locally and nationally, even drawing criticism from Bill O’Reilly.

The recommendation that caught O’Reilly’s attention came from the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group, one of seven groups of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative. According to the task group’s report, “cultural competency” will teach students cultural empathy, intercultural sensitivity, the recognition that some groups are historically and socially disadvantaged in school systems and an understanding that the way American history is taught often hides and distorts historical reality. Recommended concepts include white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, the myth of meritocracy and institutionalized racism.

To some, like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), this looks like indoctrination. They sent a letter to the President of the University arguing that the intentions of the curriculum “violate the freedom of conscience of the university’s students” and are “a severe affront to liberty and a disservice to the very ideal of a liberating education.”

But FIRE has purposely taken the proposal out of context, arguing that “the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the ‘wrong’ views and values, and withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university’s political reeducation efforts proved ineffective,” none of which is mentioned in the task group’s proposal and all of which are denied by Steve Baker, communications director of the University’s College of Education and Human Development.

People have misunderstood and blown it all out of proportion, Baker said, “the emphasis is not on a litmus test of political ideology.”

After ignoring the propaganda of FIRE and getting past certain contentious key phrases in the task group’s report, it’s clear that the functional goal of the proposal is to teach students how to “deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds and understanding” and how to “act appropriately in cross-cultural situations.” Not such a crazy notion.

While FIRE calls the curriculum an “illiberal view of education,” the reality is that universities need to provide a setting where different ideas and values are openly discussed and debated. Universities should expose students to a variety of opinions, including controversial ones, while teaching them how to analytically reach their own conclusions. At the very least, that is what cultural competency curriculum would do rather than brainwash students into accepting what they’re taught, as the critics seem to fear.

The University of Minnesota isn’t the first to propose cultural competency curriculum. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education requires a standard of diversity, which teaches students the knowledge and skills to help all students learn with an expectation that teachers will interact with a diverse group of students and faculty members. Over 500 institutions are currently accredited with these standards.

At Twin Cities the task groups’ proposals must still go through several curricular committees that include faculty, staff and community leaders. Baker is right, when he says that “preparing students to appreciate and understand diversity is a significant challenge,” especially when you receive nonsensical criticism from proposals offering ways to become more perceptive teachers and citizens.


Feb 2, 2010 at 12:50 am Leave a comment


There is no denying that the influence of the religious right is taking hold in this country, and there’s no arguing that the Bush administration has been the major force in emphasizing Christian values in nearly everything it does.

A recent New York Times article reports that the Justice Department during the Bush administration has focused on religion related cases rather than racial issues, which has historically been the Department’s main concern. Additionally, the article says that the department now hires lawyers based on his or her Christian ties, including hiring a high percentage from religious affiliated universities.

Though this issue is an indicator of the Bush administration’s policies, the strengthening religious right in the US is just one part in a global trend towards religious revival. Back in 1996 Samuel P. Huntingdon, a professor at Harvard University and former director of the National Security Council during Carter’s administration, wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that a religious revival began in the second half of the twentieth century and has since reshaped the relations between peoples and nations. Historically, Western nations have maintained their superpower status, which affected all other nations throughout the world into aligning themselves with a particular power or trying to remain neutral. This structure of world politics ended with the Cold War, the last decades in which two superpowers fought against each other.

Since the Cold War, Huntingdon argues, Western nations’ power throughout the world is declining, and non-Western nations are choosing to align themselves with other countries with similar culture. Huntingdon reasons that the religious revival is facilitating this new structuring of the world’s nations.

Huntingdon’s book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” explains his thesis that includes these five major points, quoted here:

” 1: For the first time in history global politics is both mulipolar and multicivilizational; modernization is distince from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the Westernization of non-Western societies.

2: The balance of power among civilizations is shifting; the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.

3: A civilization-based world order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilization.

4: The West’s universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China; at the local level fault line wars, largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate ‘kin-country rallying,’ the threat of broader escalation, and hence efforts by core sates to halt these wars.

5: The survival of the West depends on American reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilizational character of global politics.”

Though written in 1996, Huntingdon’s predictions are still relevant and surprisingly accurate for today’s world. For those interested in world politics and how the world is becoming completely different than the world of our parents, read this book.

Jun 18, 2007 at 7:04 pm Leave a comment

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