“I expected the program to be grounded in challenging practical work and research, both in terms of how to develop academic skills in young people, and also in the crucial role public education has in overcoming some of the most grave and intransigent problems in society.”
A year later, Nick Wilson – not his real name – has come to realize that the University of Washington’s Secondary Teacher Education Program is a “bizarre political experiment, light on academic rigor, in which the faculty quite consciously whips up emotions in order to punch home its ideological message.”
The STEP graduate writes in Quillette that the 12-month program pushes social justice activism to such an extreme that it neglects “the key components of teaching as a vocation,” leaving graduates “woefully unprepared” for the classroom.
Wilson emphasizes he’s not a right-wing ideologue, and he agrees that public schools should do more than insert “a few token ‘diverse’ authors alongside Shakespeare and Hemingway” in the curriculum. (He’s likely to be outed and face blowback in the small program, based on UW’s last response to being featured in Quillette.)
But Wilson objects to the program’s “essential mission,” which is to “combat the colonialism, misogyny and homophobia that is endemic in American society” at the expense of training “novice high school teachers”:
[A]nyone in the graduate school class who does not identify as a straight white male is encouraged from the outset to present themselves as a victim of oppression in the social hierarchy of the United States. And so a culture emerges rapidly in the 60-student cohort in which words and phrases fall under constant scrutiny, and ideas thought to be inimical to social justice are pounced on as oppressive. …
The first three of STEP’s four quarters address social constructivism, postmodernism, and identity politics through flimsy and subjective content. … These classes are difficult to distinguish from one another, each experienced as a variation on the theme of imploring students to interpret every organization and social structure through the paradigms of power and oppression via gender, race, and sexuality.
The faculty in the program have imparted “canonical status” on an academic paper that blames “the subconscious privileging of white students’ behavior by a white teacher” on a black student’s “relatively low academic performance” in a 6th grade science class, Wilson writes:
In one of our classes, students were asked to parse a transcript from the classroom of a white American teacher in which she challenged one of her Native American students who had claimed that water is biologically alive. Rather than analyzing her academic aims, how she came to develop her lesson plan, or her pedagogical techniques, the purpose of this session was to impress upon us that she was perpetuating oppression because she had rejected the spiritual beliefs of a non-Western culture.
UW’s STEP program is going far afield from “demonstrable efficacy or validation in the peer-reviewed literature,” with most classes requiring “little if any academic work.” They resemble “group therapy sessions.”
The biggest losers are the “disadvantaged children” who will be served by these ill-prepared teachers, he writes:
Each year it sends out a cohort of graduates who, due to a lack of preparation, are likely to become overwhelmed in a profession already suffering from alarming rates of attrition, particularly in high-needs schools.
You’ll definitely want to read his description of the first-quarter segregation of STEP students in the “intersectional hierarchy of oppression.”