UNC-Greensboro requires education majors to make ‘commitment to social justice’

Students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who wish to earn their teaching certificate must first complete a course that requires them to make a “commitment to social justice.”

In an op-ed for The Pope Center Tuesday, columnist Jay Schalin argues that the ELC 381 course “completely violates the spirit of free inquiry that is supposed to govern our schools” by requiring students to adopt a specific political perspective.

“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,” Schalin quotes from the syllabus of the ELC 381 class scheduled to be taught by Revital Zilonka during the Spring 2016 semester.

“Given the new understanding you have by now about society and education,” the assignment prompts students, “what's your personal/professional commitment to social justice?”

The course is offered through the university’s Department of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations, which primarily handles graduate degree programs but offers ELC 381 as a requirement for all undergraduates who are pursuing teaching licensure.

Schalin claims that “social justice,” particularly in this context, is “a term that implies a left-wing ideology,” but goes on to demonstrate that it is hardly the only politicized element of the class.

He asserts, for example, that Zilonka also instructs students to “like” a long list of Facebook pages for various groups—many of which he describes as “hard left activist organizations”—including the Human Rights Campaign, the Brown Girl Collective, and Feministing.

Moreover, Schalin claims that many of the required readings blatantly advocate for leftist ideologies, and are often “irrelevant to the study of education.”

One such reading is the book Just Mercy, which author Bryan Stevenson calls “a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice” on his website.

Schalin argues that in no way does the book seem to address the “challenging discussions of what it means to be an educator” that are supposed to be the focus of the course, adding that several other readings likewise explore topics such as “racial privilege” in contexts unrelated to education.

Particularly galling to Schalin are selections by Brazilian writer Paulo Freire— whom Schalin has previously described as a pioneer of the “social-justice-in-education movement”—and devotees to Freire’s Marxist-Christian philosophy of education, which is often compared to liberation theology.

Although Schalin devotes most of his attention to Zilonka’s class, he also observes that “it is not just a matter of a single rogue professor drawing outside the lines of acceptable teaching,” saying the course has been offered for many years, and has exhibited the same biases since its inception.

In a 2013 editorial for the school website, for instance, former ELC 381 instructor Sheryl Lieb explicitly states that the course “is grounded in frameworks of social justice and critical pedagogy,” though she does say that each instructor “brings her/his particular scholarly interests and personal values to the teaching environment.”

A welcome message on the homepage of the ELC Department’s website elaborates further on that point, describing “social justice and equity as the expressed centerpiece of who we are” and boasting of its intellectually homogeneous faculty.

“The faculty members share a sociopolitical perspective that undergirds our scholarship, teaching, and service,” the message unabashedly declares. “We are committed to the development of a just and caring democratic society in which schools serve as centers of inquiry and forces for social transformation that foster social, economic, and educational equity by honoring differences in race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference.”

Schalin also provides several examples of how other instructors have injected their own unique biases into the course, generally through assignments and required readings.

In several two-week versions of the course offered in the Fall of 2009, he claims that one instructor assigned readings with titles such as “Social Justice in the Classroom” and “Decloaking Class: Why Class Identity and Consciousness Count,” adding that the same instructor also taught another abridged version of the course that explored “issues related to gender, including sexism and homophobia, and why these issues matter in the classroom.”

More recently, a section offered in the Spring of 2013 required students to complete an “Advocacy Project” in lieu of a final paper, asking them to “describe a vision or a plan of how you as a future or current educator plan to address one or more of the social issues discussed in this class.” According to Schalin, the social issues discussed in that particular class uniformly addressed liberal priorities, and included topics such as “Privilege, oppression, and difference,” “Race and Ethnicity” (including “White privilege”), and “Ableism.”

Decrying such “impermissible attempts to influence future K-12 teachers politically,” Schalin concludes the op-ed by declaring that “no public school of education should be conducting a campaign of political indoctrination in a course required for teacher licensure.”

Campus Reform reached out to UNC-Greensboro for a response to Schalin’s criticisms, but had not received a response by press time.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete