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Is Teaching for Social Justice a “Liberal Bias”?

by Barbara Applebaum - 2009

Background/Context: A charge heard repeatedly, especially in contemporary media by neo-conservatives such as David Horowitz and George Will, maintains that there is a “liberal bias” in North American academe. The primary grievance is that students in higher education are being indoctrinated into a left-wing ideology that discriminates against conservatives and that some professors are using their classrooms as a political podium at the expense of intellectual diversity.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this project is to analytically assess the charge of “liberal bias” as it is specifically leveled at those who make social justice education a requirement of higher education, and especially teacher education.

Research Design: Using conceptual analysis, this project highlights two aspects of the charge: the charge of “bias” and the charge of “ideology/imposition.” It is argued that the charge of bias is grounded in an assumption about teacher neutrality. The concept of teacher neutrality is examined and shown to be primarily concerned with evenhandedness. It is concluded that under conditions of systemic injustice, social justice education is evenhanded. The charge of ideology/imposition is then explored, and it is argued that the underlying concern revolves around the development of critical reflection. Four different readings of “ideology” are delineated. It is argued that social justice education, although ideological in some sense, does not in principle involve imposition because it promotes rather than arrests criticality. The type of criticality that social justice education promotes is then elucidated.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Making social justice education a requirement of higher education is both evenhanded and, although a type of ideology, it promotes rather than impedes criticality. Educational researchers are exhorted to be less concerned about bias and ideology in regard to social justice education and to turn their attention to how privileged students can be educated without recentering their privilege in ways that sacrifice the education of the marginalized.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 2, 2009, p. 376-408
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15200, Date Accessed: 6/15/2021 11:33:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Barbara Applebaum
    Syracuse University
    E-mail Author
    BARBARA APPLEBAUM, associate professor of cultural foundations of education, is trained in philosophy of education. Her scholarly interests are focused on the point at which ethics, education, and commitments to diversity converge. Her research is heavily informed by feminist ethics, feminist philosophy, and critical race theory. She is currently examining the theories of self and agency that are necessary to ground and sustain educational initiatives committed to social justice. Recent publications include “Engaging Student Disengagement: Resistance or Disagreement?” in Philosophy of Education Society (2008); “In the Name of Morality: Moral Responsibility, Whiteness and Social Justice Education” in the Journal of Moral Education (2005); “Social Justice Education, Moral Agency, and the Subject of Resistance” in Educational Theory (2004); and “Social Justice, Democratic Education and the Silencing of Words that Wound” in the Journal of Moral Education (2003).
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