Should teachers educate or turn their students into progressive activists?

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) seems to be more interested in turning education majors into liberal activists than equipping them with the tools they need to educate America’s students.

UNCG’s “The Institution of Education” (syllabus here) is a required class for students wishing to become teachers. If they do not pass this class, they will be unable to attain a teacher’s diploma from the University. While ostensibly the course is about the institution of education, it is instead designed to teach future teachers how to persuade students to a certain political view. The course is described thus:

Overview: In this course students are invited to participate in challenging discussions of what it means to be an educator. The course will feature reading, writing, art, movies, performance arts, and classroom activities, games and discussions regarding the vocation of teachers, social justice, dis/abilities, bilingual education, social class, poverty, sexuality, gender, race and community membership. [emphasis added]

Thus, the class is intended to change the self-perception of these future educators with the ultimate result being that they view themselves as advocates of progressive ideas.

The class uses an approach that instructs teachers to steer students towards recognizing and opposing conservative ideas. Through the class UNCG instructs future teachers in how to teach their students about numerous social ills allegedly caused by institutions, and then inform them the only way to fix these problems is to tear down the old institutions and create new ones that focus on helping certain groups.

This class violates academic freedom both in its instruction and requirements. Academic freedom is about giving students the ability to form their own ideas and to express positions different from their professors. The purpose of education is to expand students’ minds and to make them think critically about preconceived notions about a subject. Education should not be a vehicle for teachers to force their political viewpoint onto their students.  However, UNCG forces future educators to study a political agenda disguised as a lesson on education.

One of the class assignments, for example, is to write a “Personal/Professional Commitment Statement”:

By the end of the semester, you are required to write your own personal/professional commitment to social justice (7-8 pages), given all the new knowledge(s) that the course participants generated every week. The questions for this assignment are: what challenged you in the ELC-381 course? What stood out? What did you learn about yourself? Given the new understanding you have by now about society and education, what’s your personal/professional commitment to social justice? [emphasis added]

To pass the class, therefore, these future educators must act like liberal social activists. This blatant violation of freedom of conscience flies in the face of academic freedom.

While it is entirely appropriate for teachers to educate students regarding social issues, it is inappropriate for teachers to use their classes to forcefully recruit students for progressive causes. The teacher should take an impartial stance, teaching the students to think critically regarding the material they are studying.

To put this issue in another context, it would be equally outrageous if a world religion teacher required students to exclusively read material meant to promote the viewpoint that Catholicism is the only true religion. Then, in order to pass the class, the students have to write a paper about how this class has brought them closer to the Catholic Church. Liberals would immediately denounce this teacher for overstepping his authority.

The activist-in-place-of-a-teacher approach is gaining acceptance in parts of higher education and is even celebrated by certain liberal thinkers. A course correction is in order. Education should not be used to recruit students to political causes, but should be used for its original purpose: to teach students to become informed critical thinkers.

Crossposted at

Daniel Turner is a legislative analyst for the Task Force on Education and Workforce Development at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).