Friday, October 13, 2006

Marquette “Social Justice Teach-In:” Indoctrination Not Education

Two weeks ago tomorrow, something called the “Marquette University Social Justice Teach-In” happened on campus. If you know nothing about how “social justice” is defined by the university bureaucrats in the University Ministry, the Office of Student Development, Manresa and a supposed student organization called J.U.S.T.I.C.E. you might think this is a good thing.

Shouldn’t people think about social justice at a Catholic university?

The problem is that the “social justice” crowd doesn’t want people to think. They don’t believe there is anything to think about. To them, it’s obvious that “social justice” is identical with a leftist political agenda, and when they put together programs on “social justice” they can’t even conceive that there might be two sides to any political issue.

Well . . . actually, they do think there are two sides: the side of “social justice” and the side of the reactionary Republicans. Only evil people would embrace the latter.

Pervasive Bias

Consider, for example, the death penalty.

The program has only one speaker on the death penalty, a woman named Rebecca Coffee giving a talk titled “Perspectives on the Death Penalty: Wrong for Wisconsin.”

But, one might say, the Catholic Church does oppose the death penalty, so isn’t it fair that that side should presented? The problem is that the people who put together this program felt no urge to hue to the Catholic position on other issues.

The Catholic Church, for example, opposes gay marriage. Yet the “social justice” program has no opponent of gay marriage. It does have a representative of pro-gay marriage group Fair Wisconsin giving a talk on “The Role of Wisconsin Students in the Civil Rights Movement of Our Generation.” Not only that, but the program has a representative from the Marquette Gay/Straight Alliance!

So much for the notion that any loyalty to Catholic social teaching is in evidence here.

Of course, there is nothing on the program about abortion. The organizers, apparently, were unwilling to flatly oppose Catholic social teaching on that issue, but also unwilling to uphold it.

The remainder of the program shows the same monolithic leftist bias, seldom having any reflection of actual Catholic teaching.

Consider, for example, Chuck Baynton, a fellow who presented a talk titled “So Who DOES Have the Right to Possess Nuclear Weapons?”

Baynton is concerned with nuclear disarmament. That might sound like a perfectly reasonable thing to want. But Baynton isn’t talking about disarming North Korea. He’s not talking about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

He wants the United States forgo all nuclear weapons!

If nobody else in the world had nuclear weapons, and if there was no danger of a rogue regime getting them, this might be a reasonable thing to want. Unfortunately, in the world we actually live in the notion is close to insane.

Along similar lines, Mark Peters gave a talk titled “Is the Church Afraid of Her Own Social Teaching?” Peters is a strong opponent of the War in Iraq, and a member of Catholics for Peace and Justice. He and some fellow anti-war activists were recently cited for disorderly conduct when their demonstration blocked the intersection of North Third Street and West Wisconsin Avenue.

Of course, the Catholic hierarchy has opposed the Iraq War, so this might seem to be a case of the “social justice” crowd being loyal to Church teaching . . . if it were not for their embrace of the “gay rights” agenda.

But Catholic thought holds that issues of when to go to war are matters of prudential judgment. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan has said:
Thoughtful voices can be heard on both sides, one maintaining that American initiatives in Iraq are morally licit and meet the classical requirements of a “just war,” the other holding that our military action there is not only a political disaster but clearly immoral. Both sides agree in expressing high regard for our men and women in uniform, who are most exposed to danger, and who are most desirous of the establishment of peace and a return safely home.
But for the “social justice” crowd, “both sides” are not to be heard. Only the leftist orthodoxy is to be heard.

This is especially the case with Art Heitzer, member of the hard-left National Lawyers Guild and a supporter of Castro’s Cuba.

Likewise, only one side of the Palestinian issue was deemed worthy of inclusion on the program. Philosophy Professor Robert Ashmore was the sole speaker who addressed this issue. Ashmore, who is moderate (and sometimes conservative) in politics generally, is an extremely strong proponent of the Palestinian cause, and a harsh critic of Israel. He was responsible for a Manresa panel in September of 2005 that was monolithically and stridently anti-Israel, and included panelists who made excuses for Arab terrorism.

Scary Speaker from the Education School

In many ways the most scary speaker on the program was Sharon M. Chubbuck from Marquette’s Education School. Unlike most other speakers, she has power over hapless students who just want to get teaching credentials and help kids learn.

Her views of what teachers should do are from the hard left, and intolerant of dissent.

She embraces a Marxist view of social class and the educational process. She has written, for example:
Critical Pedagogy emerged from a variety of sources in the 1970s (Luke, 1997). One significant influence was the philosophy of critical theory, developed by the pre-World War II Frankfurt School, which advocated a Marxist analytical model using injustice and class subjugation as the primary lens for understanding human experience (Kincheloe & McLaren, 1994).

According to McLaren (1998), critical pedagogy “examines schools both in their historical context and as part of the existing social and political fabric that characterizes the dominant society” (p. 163), centering politics and power in its analysis. Every aspect of schooling and educational practice are seen as “politically contested spaces” significantly influenced by race, class, and gender forces (Kincheloe, 2005, p. 2). Teachers who embrace critical pedagogy understand and attempt to address the effects of those forces in their own activist stance as well as in their classroom content and method.

. . . though derived from myriad sources and philosophies more curricular in focus than pedagogical, critical pedagogy was most clearly defined in the theoretical and practical work of Brazilian literacy educator Paulo Freire, who worked to develop literacy among the oppressed adult peasant population of Brazil in the 1970s. . . . As described in his classic work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire (1970) held that all education is political and the pedagogical means used to educate students renders them as either objects under the rule of oppressors or subjects with the power to transform their own experience.
If there is any doubt that she is embracing this Marxist approach, she adds:
Dialogue based upon love, humility, faith, and hope in humanity and upon the power of reflection, action, and critical thinking would produce conscientização—a Portuguese word roughly translated as “consciousness-raising”—among the oppressed and, ultimately an enactment of agency that could transform their oppression. The goal of Freire’s (1970) pedagogy was the “humanizing” of those whose humanity had been diminished by oppression done to them, and then, through loving engagement with the formerly oppressed, the possibility of humanization for those whose humanity had been diminished by the oppression they perpetrated.
OK, one might say, that’s just her opinion. Students can disagree, right?

Chubbuck does not think they have the right to disagree. She quotes two students who don’t agree with her theories.
Either way you look at it, pushing social justice issues coincides with pushing political issues. . . . I want my students to know about the topics, and act on them if they feel like they should, but I certainly do not want myself being the one pushing one way or the other. I think that if you bring social justice arguments into the classroom, whether you are trying to or not, you will be in some way affecting how a child thinks politically. . . . Even though you may be righteous in your efforts, I believe that it is wrong to push any political philosophy by using the power of your title as teacher. --Gus, pre-service teacher.

As a parent, the ideology of a teacher scares me. Students can be so impressionable that one bias from the right teacher may take years for a child to let go of. . . . Also, as a parent, I would like to shelter my kids from all the negativity in this world. They’ll be running up against it much sooner than I would like as it is. A teacher who talks about homelessness and discrimination might bring a depressing end to what started out as a good day. --Molly, pre-service teacher.
How does she respond? She derides the concerns of these students.
Given the blinders of their common white, middle- to upper-middle class experiences, a small group of our students, when challenged to consider teaching for social justice, becomes recalcitrant, burrowing deeper into their mono-cultural understanding of life. . . . As seen in the student journals quoted above, some resist what seems like an imposition of political views, failing to realize that not raising issues of injustice can also be considered an imposition of political views by virtue of what is left unsaid.
Thus, dissent is something she won’t accept.

If the people who put this program together really cared about educating children, they would have had a speaker on school choice. Marquette’s Howard Fuller is perhaps the top advocate of school choice in the entire nation.

But school choice only promises to educate kids better, not to turn them into little leftists.

Back to Hippie-Dippy Days

Some speakers were less controversial, but also had little connection with “social justice.”

Mary Ann Ihm seems to be a throwback to the hippy-dippy days of the sixties. She is into growing organic food in urban gardens. While there is nothing wrong with doing that, it has nothing at all to do with feeding poor people in the Third World. Thinking that it does is neither morally not intellectually defensible.

MacCanon Brown runs a shelter for homeless people. Here we finally have a woman whose mission seems to have something to do with the Catholic vision of social justice.

The same goes for Andrew DeFranza.

But the good feeling these two people engender is quickly eclipsed by the inclusion on the program of a speaker promoting the idea of the “housing trust fund” which supposedly will fund “low income housing.” This might sound like a good response to homelessness if you don’t understand that the root of the problem is not the lack of “affordable housing” but rather clinical depression and drug abuse among the homeless. Those problems present serious public policy dilemmas.

It’s so much easier to believe that the problem would go away if government would just enact one more social program.

Like many social programs, the idea of a “housing trust fund” is just another government pork barrel policy.

Some of the speakers were innocuous enough. Eric Resch, whose Stone Creek Coffee has a monopoly on campus, apparently because his dad is a big bucks contributor to the University, spoke about how his firm promotes “social justice.” Last year, a representative from Alterra Coffee (which then had the monopoly) spoke.

These folks seem to be obsessed with coffee.

And we have no quarrel with our colleague Barry McCormick’s activism on Darfur – notwithstanding our pessimism that he and like-minded activists will be able to accomplish anything.


The “Social Justice Teach In” was neither morally nor intellectually responsible. Moral responsibility, remember, requires intellectual responsibility. It’s not adequate to embrace a political ideology because it makes one feel self-righteous. It’s not adequate to refuse to consider alternative views because they might dampen one’s enthusiasm for the cause du jour.

What J.U.S.T.I.C.E. produced (doubtless in conjunction with their enablers in the University Ministry, the Office of Student Development and Manresa) was not an exploration of “social justice.”

It was an exercise in mutual moral masturbation.


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