(Editor’s Note: This is the second and final installment of a series on Social Justice in Education by the Pope Center’s Jay Schalin. The first article untangled some of the key works by social justice theorists to expose its Marxist origin and subversive intent. This article describes how social justice theory is making major inroads into UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education and the implications of this trend.)
“Social justice,” in its broadest definition, is the extension of the principles of “justice” into every aspect of human existence. Depending on its implementation, such an idea could possibly have merit. But in all of its various American implementations and offshoots in America today, it is nothing more than a justification for Marxist and radical-left designs.
When it is applied to American education, social justice pedagogy (the method of teaching social justice) has come to mean a way of thinking and teaching intended to undermine both authority and objective reasoning and bring about an underclass-inspired political upheaval. The movement’s philosophical foundations are derived from the writings of the Brazilian Marxist educator Paolo Freire. Its American version was influenced greatly by Columbia University education professor Maxine Greene. The pedagogy’s best known popularizer is William Ayers, Greene’s protégé and former member of the violent 1960s Weatherman radical group, who is now a University of Illinois professor and an associate of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Like Ayers himself, social justice in education is no longer relegated to fringe status. A brief look at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education indicates that social justice pedagogy is, or might soon become, the dominant philosophy among the faculty.
Social justice pedagogy is most clearly revealed in UNC-CH’s graduate school curriculum, because original sources are used, in contrast to the undergraduate education courses, which use generalized textbooks. However, given the widespread adherence to the philosophy by faculty members, social justice principles are certain to be embedded throughout the undergraduate curriculum as well.
One place where social justice’s presence is most apparent is in the educational leadership program, one of four areas of concentration in the graduate School of Education. The program’s mission statement reads:
“Leadership for equity, social justice and academic excellence is the mission of the educational leadership program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While we believe that school leaders must be proficient in a wide variety of technical skills and tasks to be successful educational administrators, we are first and foremost concerned with the agenda of constructing democratic learning communities which are positioned in the larger society to support an agenda of social action which removes all forms of injustice.”
There is nothing subtle about this statement: it states that the most important thing in the program is to create “learning communities” that are strategically positioned to support the social justice agenda. This agenda includes changing the way candidates for advanced degrees think. Kathleen Brown, the director of the education school’s leadership program, wrote in a 2004 article about “transformative learning,” which she regards as one of the “theoretical underpinnings” of social justice pedagogy: “Transformative learning changes the way people see themselves and their world.”
She also wrote that “[b]y exposing candidates to information and ideas they may resist and by assisting them to stretch beyond their comfort zones, a critique and transformation of hegemonic structures and ideologies can occur.”
How can this be anything other than political indoctrination? Students are force-fed ideas that they might initially “resist”; then authority figures guide them to criticize their old “ideology” until they adopt a new one (that conforms to politically correct standards). This has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with helping students become more adept at teaching or administering a school.
In the same 2004 article, Brown openly urges professors to embed such ideological manipulation into every class, writing that “professors need to retool their teaching and courses to address issues of power and privilege—to weave social justice into the fabric of educational leadership curriculum, pedagogy, programs and policies.”
If Brown were simply an isolated crank professor, her designs could possibly be overlooked. But she is in charge of the entire leadership area. A significant part of the training that high-level K-12 administrators and future education school professors receive at UNC-Chapel Hill is in leadership.
And it is just not Brown’s leadership area that has been corrupted by a Marxist philosophy. One course recommended to students seeking a master’s degree with an emphasis in the Culture, Curriculum and Change area of concentration is EDUC 678: Cultural Studies and Education, taught by James Trier. Trier spends much of the course using popular films to illustrate the major ideas of communist theorists, including Antonio Gramsci, Theodor Adorno, Georg Lukacs and Max Horkheimer.
The inclusion of these particular communists is very significant—it was they who, in the 1920s, initiated the movement to weaken the capitalist countries of the West from within via gradual cultural change, rather than trying to incite a revolution of the workers more directly. Writer Linda Kimball provides a clear and concise description of their subversive activities in a 2007 American Thinker article. Specifically:
- Gramsci and Lukacs both “concluded that the Christianized West was the obstacle standing in the way of a communist new world order.”
- Gramsci felt that western workers were so corrupted by Christianity that it was necessary to de-Christianize them with a “long march through the culture” (Gramsci’s phrase).
- Lukacz, Adorno, and Horkheimer were the major founding members of the Frankfurt School, “a Marxist think tank” whose “primary goal was to translate Marxism from economic terms into cultural terms.”
- Adorno introduced the concept of the “authoritarian personality” into the Marxist lexicon. This idea states that “Christianity, capitalism, and the traditional family create a character prone to racism and fascism. Thus, anyone who upholds America’s traditional moral values and culture is both racist and fascist.”
Professor Trier also assigns works by and about other leading Western communists such as Guy Debord, Stuart Hall and the contemporary darling of the anti-capitalist left, Naomi Klein (whom Trier considers “brilliant”).
But it is not just into the more subjective areas like “leadership” and “culture” that social justice principles are intruding. The movement has even gained traction into a discipline presumed to be purely objective: science education. Here is an excerpt from the official UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education biography of Eileen Parsons, an assistant professor of science education:
“Her research and scholarship diverge from and call into question the universalistic view of science. This perspective of science includes beliefs that the validity of a scientific account is objective and resides in the physical world itself; factors like power, culture, race, gender, and ethnicity of the participants involved in and learners of science are irrelevant.”
This is not knowledge, but the negation of knowledge. Professor Parsons is teaching that the “validity” of science—the study of the physical world—is not primarily dependent on the physical world! (It would be hard to find a more perfect example of an oxymoron.) She suggests the validity of science instead depends on whoever is doing the studying! In other words, a scientist’s race, gender, etc, are the key determinants of scientific truth—a scientific principle, such as gravity, can mean different things for different people. This kind of reasoning not just wrong—it is at best extreme silliness, but might instead be madness.
The above are just a few of the more glaring examples of how the concept of “social justice” has permeated the Chapel Hill education school culture. It would likely take many months of research by a gifted PhD. in education to root out all of the egregious examples of this trend in the curriculum. However, the names and phrases of the social justice movement are omnipresent on the syllabi of many UNC professors: Freire, Gramschi, Dewey, “white privilege,” “racism,” “equity,” “class” “the banking model of education,” “racial identity,” “hegemony,” “critical theory,” and most of all “social justice.” The same names and phrases appear on faculty biographies. Not every professor appears to have enlisted in the social justice movement—but many have, enough to exert a powerful influence on the present and future of North Carolina’s educational system.
And there is no reason to suspect that things are better at any other UNC education school—some are likely to be even worse. Nor is there any reason to suspect that private colleges and other state systems have managed to avoid this intellectual plague—again, many schools are assuredly worse.
These things are really happening. Social justice pedagogy (also called critical pedagogy) is indeed a means to subvert and indoctrinate. It is rapidly spreading throughout the educational establishment. Chapel Hill-trained professors are highly sought after to teach at other colleges, both in the UNC system and throughout the country. UNC schools of education do have tremendous influence on North Carolina—a large majority of the state’s public school teachers are trained at a UNC university, and UNC graduate schools produce a majority of its principals and superintendents as well. Teachers do indeed influence the next generation. The best that can be hoped for when educators are teaching nonsense is that the students don’t pay attention to their teachers—not a positive state of affairs.
There is no question about the direction that the proponents of “social justice” in higher education are leading us—they openly and proudly write it down for all to see, in their scholarly articles, in their course syllabi, and in their official university biographies. We also know what Marxism produces: tyranny, poverty, waste, and corruption.
And yet the entire state establishment refuses to see the naked emperors in our education schools—the leadership of those schools, the individual university administrators, the university system’s general administration, the system’s Board of Governors, the media, the legislature and the governor all utter not a peep of condemnation. Have we truly become a people who will not defend our own culture or our government from those who will destroy us? Unless somebody in authority grows a backbone quickly, we are doomed as a nation.