Textbooks, which are assigned and shared, in a classroom at Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas, April 5, 2012. (Photo: Ben Sklar / The New York Times)The Republican Party of Texas has issued their 2012 political platform and has come out and blatantly opposed critical thinking in public schools throughout the state. If you wonder what took them so long to actually state that publicly, it is really a matter of timing. With irrationality now the norm and an election hovering over the 2012 horizon, the timing of the Republican GOP announcement against "critical thinking" instruction couldn't be better. It helps gin up their anti-intellectual base.
The Texas GOP's declarative position against critical thinking in public schools, or any schools, for that matter, is now an official part of their political platform. It is public record in the Republican Party of Texas 2012 platform. With regard to critical thinking, the Republican Party of Texas document states: "Knowledge-Based Education - We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." (page 20, Republican Party of Texas, 2012).
Yes, challenging beliefs or claims is considered insubordinate, immoral and could lead to rebellion, disobedience or perhaps worse: revolution. For the Republican Party and their followers, thinking is subversive, imagination is a sin and the Republican Party in Texas and elsewhere is working to codify this into public policy. The plutocrats can't have a working-class citizenry that is asking questions of those in power, be they parents or bosses; instead, the people must be taught the ideology of what is morally acceptable, what rules and regulations to follow. and even more importantly, how to accept and internalize hierarchical authoritarianism. Critical thinking is a direct challenge to the "leaders" and their claims on authority, and any opposition to vertical arrangements is ethically unacceptable to those in power.
Reactionaries have long known that enshrining ignorance and hierarchy in both thought and practice within the school curriculum is essential if the control of young minds is to be accomplished softly and quietly yet profoundly through propaganda and perception management. In the quarters of obedience training, "education" has nothing to do with "schooling" under capitalism.
Read more:The Public Intellectual
This thinking is not new. The ideological underpinnings for such repugnant beliefs sorrowfully tread back throughout the history of the 20th century and undoubtedly before. William Bagley's book, "Classroom Management," published in 1907 and widely used as a teacher-training manual throughout America in the early 1900s, was so highly praised at the time that it went through 30 printed editions. The book echoed the morbid thinking of many so-called Gilded Age educators at the time. One such passage from the book sums up the thinking regarding children and childhood: "One who studies educational theory aright can see in the mechanical routine of the classroom the educative forces that are slowly transforming the child from a little savage into a creature of law and order, fit for the life of civilized society."
Law and order is what counts, and critical education, of course, seeks to subject all laws and claims to order to the lens of critical scrutiny, something the powerful disdain. Schooling under the neofeudalistic capitalist relations that are now emerging in the new Gilded Age of the 21st century is no different than in the past, where learning how not to think critically was the norm. The Texas GOP is simply creating the new conditions for a technological form of Plato's Cave with zero tolerance and the school-to-prison pipeline.
The Republican Party platform gets worse when it comes to prohibiting thinking critically about science or the scientific method. Take the section on " controversial theories," found on page 20:
Controversial Theories - We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.
Alternative beliefs such as creationism are now cleverly invited into the curriculum as so-called science or theories to debunk the purportedly false notions of the theory of evolution. But if critical thinking is not to be used in the classroom, how would these beliefs be examined for evidence? Science, the scientific method, critical thinking and the process of subjecting claims to evidentiary experimentation - all related activities - pose a threat to self-proclaimed power and the harbingers of supernaturalism.
IDEA Public Schools
One of the purveyors of such rubbish is Texas educational retail chain IDEA Public Schools. IDEA is a retail charter outfit that standardizes curriculum downwards, away from critical thinking, embracing instead rote memorization and regurgitation, or what I call the "anorexic/bulimic" learning model of intellectual atrophy, ossification, and decay.
IDEA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. This status was obtained for tax purposes, and it would take another article to demonstrate how nonprofit status has been hijacked by special interests (charter schools in this case) in the interest of profit extraction. In fact, IDEA Public Schools is public only because it takes public subsidies to stay alive.
IDEA's board members include representatives from JPMorgan, Teach for America, International Bank of Commerce, Wells Fargo and other Wall Street banking concerns. In spite of the fact that the board of IDEA is filled with Wall Street banking interests, IDEA says it works to assure students get what they call a "core curriculum." Critical thinking is never mentioned in the IDEA core curriculum - let alone entertained in IDEA classrooms, either by faculty or students; instead, IDEA is devoted to turning education into a commodity, students into customers mounted with saddlebags for tax funds that subsidize IDEA and turn schools into fortresses of profit.
According to IDEA's online blurb, the company is all about growth and expansion using taxpayer monies to grease the wheel: "In addition to its exemplary academic achievement, IDEA is moving forward with growth and expansion efforts to help serve more students throughout the Valley and Central Texas. IDEA currently enrolls over 9,000 students, with campuses in ten communities throughout the Rio Grande Valley. When all IDEA schools are at full scale (serving students in K-12th grade), IDEA will serve 15,000 from communities throughout the Rio Grande Valley."
The company is moving across the Texas prairie, taking down traditional public schools like locusts consuming wheat fields. Keeping with the Republican platform, they promise to make obedience training and anti-intellectualism the cornerstone and foundation of education in Texas, to the detriment of students and society.
The Age of Irrationality and the Abdication of Reason
In the case of the Texas Republican Party, they have really upped the stakes. Supernaturalism and supernatural beliefs no doubt will continue to snake their way into public school lesson plans, and as Texas will have significant impact on the content of all the nation's texts through its textbook purchasing power, we may find that the tale of the Loch Ness Monster is now told to children as if it were a true story in science classes. Don't laugh! This is now the case in Louisiana where, as The Washington Post reported, "A biology textbook used by a Christian school in Louisiana that will be accepting students with publicly funded vouchers in the fall says that the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland is real. And it isn't just any monster but a dinosaur - an effort to debunk evolution and bolster creationist theory."
Remember: In Louisiana, taxpayer money is given in the form of school vouchers so that parents can now see their tax monies spent on a supernatural curriculum bent on teaching that the Loch Ness Monster and other fairy tales are true.
All of this can be seen as part and parcel of the emerging Age of Irrationality, the hemorrhaging of a post-literate society where reason is abdicated in favor of irrationality and appeals to supernaturalism. The sad part is that all of this is now encouraged, by forces bent on enslaving the minds of children, as the new "curriculum circus" in schools.
In the New Digital Dark Ages, where the landscape is packed with scurrilous corporate politicians on the take, textbook companies clawing for educational profits, and tent preachers looking for a congregation of sheep-le and a quick Elmer Gantry buck, the people who suffer are students, teachers and the average citizen.
It Doesn't Stop There
Prohibitions against thinking critically or scientifically comprise just one of 30 pages of the anti-Enlightenment thinking seen in the Texas GOP platform document. Here is some more of its chilling content:
- Abstinence-only sex education
- Trying juveniles as adults
- Emphasis on faith-based drug rehab
- Opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Flat-rate income tax
- Repeal of the minimum wage
- Opposition to homosexuality in the military
- Opposition to red light cameras
- Opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because firms should be able to fire people for what they consider "sinful and sexually immoral behavior."
- Continued opposition to ACORN (even though it has not existed since 2010!)
- Opposition to statehood or even Congressional voting rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia
- And no-questions-asked support for Israel because, and this is another direct quote: "Our policy is based on God's biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise."
This is corporate American culture and education today, or at least a great and growing part of it. Learning to identify assumptions and differentiating them from facts, questioning assumptions in light of evidence, engaging in wonder and inquiry, exchanging other points of view in an atmosphere of civility and inquiry (especially entertaining those points of view one does not agree with), learning the art of critical self reflection, asking for evidence for claims made by oneself and others, and testing hypotheses through the development of methods and protocols of thinking - opposition to all of this has emerged from the Texas GOP's "hidden curriculum" and is now under the magnifying glass of scrutiny - and secured a place in the Texas Republican platform.
This is not only a telling moment for a complex empire in spiraling decline, but also a frightening moment, for we can see evolution transformed into devolution and schools converted into the supernatural rabbit holes that lead to Alice-in-Wonderland gated communities of ignorance governed by a chilling hierarchy of totalitarianism and fear.
It says above that 'critical thinking is never mentioned in the IDEA curriculum." I erred, it is mentioned - but only as it applies to Humanities. It is not mentioned anywhere else in the curriculum:
The IDEA Public Schools Humanities curriculum is designed to teach students a variety of reading, writing and critical thinking skills that they will use throughout their secondary and post-secondary careers" (ibid).
With thanks to Meg Griffith, 12th Grade IB Math Teacher, 12th Grade Team Leader who brought this oversight to my attention.
New York Times columnist Gail Collins’ latest book, "As Texas Goes," takes the state to task for, well, being Texas. And her Aug. 1, 2012, column did pretty much the same.
Casting the nomination of Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate as a harbinger of doom, Collins wrote that Texas "does tend to treasure the extreme" in politics, saying, "The current Republican state platform calls for an end to the teaching of ‘critical thinking’ in public schools."
Collins is actually a bit late to this party: Major liberalwebsites launched assaults on this part of the 2012 platform (adopted June 8) as early as June 26, and Comedy Central’s "Colbert Report" satirized it July 17.
Mainstream media weighed in, too. A July 9 Washington Postblog entry was headlined "Texas GOP rejects ‘critical thinking’ skills. Really." Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts wrote July 21: "The Texas GOP has set itself explicitly against teaching children to be critical thinkers."
Austin American-Statesman opinion columnist Ken Herman reported July 21 that the party’s deputy executive director, Chris Elam, told him the platform subcommittee did not intend to indicate that the party opposed critical thinking skills.
We began our research by trying to contact Collins but did not hear from her. Her column gives no information about her claim beyond that single sentence.
We pulled the complete wording of the "Knowledge-Based Education" plank from the 2012 platform:
We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Next, we contacted Elam, who told us by email that party chairman Steve Munisteri had given a good explanation in a July 24 interview with Austin’s KVUE-TV.
Munisteri told KVUE, "The platform plank is against a specific type of teaching called 'outcome-based education.'
"The reason why critical thinking is mentioned is some places try to disguise the program of outcome-based education and just re-label it as 'critical thinking.' "
That’s supported by the wording in the platform.
Following the lead of a July 6, 2012, Chronicle of Higher Educationblog post on the Texas platform fracas, we looked back to the 2010 platform. Its "Knowledge-Based Education" plank said, "The primary purpose of public schools is to teach critical thinking skills, reading, writing, arithmetic, phonics, history, science, and character … We oppose Outcome-Based Education (OBE) and similar programs."
Both platforms support critical thinking when it comes to "controversial theories" such as evolution, which "should be taught as challengeable scientific theories ... Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind."
Next, we set out to see if we could determine whether opposing outcome-based education is also, de facto, opposing critical thinking in the larger sense.
The debate over outcome-based education caught fire in the 1990s as outcome-based curricula were installed in U.S. school districts. In the Lexis newspaper archive and on the web, we saw a dozen news stories and opinion pieces from as many states -- Texas included -- describing public concern about the new approach.
Opponents said the outcome-based approach was antithetical to critical thinking. They claimed it "dumbed down" curricula and influenced students to adopt liberal attitudes because the "outcome" of their studies was predetermined by academia.
Supporters claimed it encouraged -- in fact, taught -- critical thinking. Rather than testing students on facts learned by rote memorization, they said, it required children to demonstrate that they had learned to analyze the material.
So what the heck is it? The news stories we read indicate outcome-based education takes different forms nearly everywhere it’s applied. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram gave a description in an Oct. 30, 1996, news story about opposition to OBE-like elements in the state’s planned education overhaul:
Under outcome-based education, academic and personal goals are set for students before they can graduate. The program stresses that children are not allowed to fail, so they might be given the same test or report over and over until they do the work satisfactorily. It also may eliminate traditional grades, competitive student assessments and distinct subjects and grade levels.
Methods of implementing outcome-based education include awarding group grades instead of individual grades and eliminating honors programs.
The "founding father" of OBE, education reformer William Spady, gave an example in an interview for the December 1992/January 1993 issue of Educational Leadership magazine, published by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).
Asked whether an outcome might be "The student will be able to list the five causes of the Civil War," Spady replied: "No, sorry; that is not an exit outcome. But, ‘Identify and explain the fundamental causes and consequences of the Civil War’ would be an enabling outcome worth pursuing en route to some larger exit outcome."
Today, a divide remains between the "OBE teaches kids to think" side and the "OBE suppresses thinking" side.
We didn’t find allusions to "critical thinking skills" being used as a code phrase for OBE, but did note that a Feb. 15, 1994, news story in the Dallas Morning News said some educators were avoiding the name "outcomes-based education":
Because of the controversy, many educators are going to great lengths to avoid being associated with outcomes-based education.
"We've always had outcomes," said state school board member Diane Patrick. But "we'd be foolish to call it outcomes-based education right now. That would be very unwise."
As Collins says, the Texas GOP platform does state that the party opposes "critical thinking." But Collins leaves out some important context. The platform makes it clear that its opposition is centered on one type of education model: outcome-based education.
That’s just the kind of situation addressed in PolitiFact’s definition of Half True: "The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."
By those lights, Collins’ statement is Half True.