‘Disposition’ Emerges as Issue at Brooklyn College

Jacob Gershman, New York Sun, May 31

Brooklyn College’s School of Education has begun to base evaluations of aspiring teachers in part on their commitment to social justice, raising fears that the college is screening students for their political views.

The School of Education at the CUNY campus initiated last fall a new method of judging teacher candidates based on their “dispositions,” a vogue in teacher training across the country that focuses on evaluating teachers’ values, apart from their classroom performance.

Critics of the assessment policy warned that aspiring teachers are being judged on how closely their political views are aligned with their instructor’s. Ultimately, they said, teacher candidates could be ousted from the School of Education if they are found to have the wrong dispositions.

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A case in point, as Mr. Johnson of Brooklyn College has pointed out, is the way in which the term was incorporated into Ms. Parmar’s course, called Language Literacy in Secondary Education, which students said is required of all Brooklyn College education candidates who aspire to become secondary-school teachers. In the fall semester, Ms. Parmar was the only instructor who taught the course, according to students.

The course, which instructs students on how to develop lesson plans that teach literacy, is built around themes of “social justice,” according to the syllabus, which was obtained by The New York Sun. One such theme is the idea that standard English is the language of oppressors while Ebonics, a term educators use to denote a dialect used by African-Americans, is the language of the oppressed.

A preface to the listed course requirements includes a quotation from a South African scholar, Njabulo Ndebele: “The need to maintain control over English by its native speakers has given birth to a policy of manipulative open-mindedness in which it is held that English belongs to all who use it provided that it is used correctly. This is the art of giving away the bride while insisting that she still belongs to you.”

Among the complaints cited by students in letters they delivered in December to the dean of the School of Education, Deborah Shanley, is Ms. Parmar’s alleged disapproval of students who defended the ability to speak grammatically correct English.

Speaking of Ms. Parmar, one student, Evan Goldwyn, wrote: “She repeatedly referred to English as a language of oppressors and in particular denounced white people as the oppressors. When offended students raised their hands to challenge Professor Parmar’s assertion, they were ignored. Those students that disagreed with her were altogether denied the opportunity to speak.”

Students also complained that Ms. Parmar dedicated a class period to the screening of an anti-Bush documentary by Michael Moore, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a week before last November’s presidential election, and required students to attend the class even if they had already seen the film. Students said Ms. Parmar described “Fahrenheit 9/11” as an important film to see before they voted in the election.

“Most troubling of all,” Mr. Goldwyn wrote, “she has insinuated that people who disagree with her views on issues such as Ebonics or Fahrenheit 911 should not become teachers.”

Students who filed complaints with the dean said they have received no response from the college administration. Instead, they said, the administration and Ms. Parmar have retaliated against them, accusing Mr. Goldwyn and another student of plagiarism in January after the semester ended.

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Speaking to the Sun, Mr. Tong defended Mr. Goldwyn’s classroom behavior.

“Evan is not a bully,” the student said. “He is able to voice his opinion. He is very vocal about his opinions.”

The plagiarism accusations against Mr. Goldwyn and the other student involved their final assignment for Ms. Parmar’s course, which required them to develop a “critical literacy” lesson plan intended for “linguistically and culturally diverse students.”

Mr. Goldwyn, according to those familiar with the academic charges against him, was accused of failing to attribute a question he used in his lesson plan that was paraphrased from a Web site.

The other undergraduate, Christina Harned, a senior who expects to graduate in December, was charged with plagiarism for submitting a definition of Jim Crow laws in her lesson plan that she acknowledged she copied from the online Encarta encyclopedia. She said she was not aware before handing in the assignment that using the definition constituted plagiarism. “It wasn’t a term paper,” she said. “It was a lesson plan.”

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Mr. Madden, 35, said that after he disputed a grade he received from her, Ms. Parmar encouraged him to withdraw from the course. He said he changed his plans to take the course in the summer after finding out that Ms. Parmar was again teaching both sections of the required course.

“Basically, she’s a socialist, she’s racist against white people,” Mr. Madden said. “If you want to pass that class you better keep your mouth shut.”

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