The GOP Party in Texas doesn’t think much of public education. And this thinking is too often encountered in conservative states. Anything that smacks of reform is resoundingly rejected. Here’s one example, a plank in the Texas Republican party’s platform:
We oppose the teaching of critical thinking skills which have the purpose of challenging student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
What single statement is more revealing about the ideology of conservatives?
After all, teaching kids to think critically, to examine data, to question the status quo, would only serve to further drive rational people away from GOP positions. Young people might think long and hard about the merits of health care reform, gun control, or immigration policy. The current generation might have the audacity to question Republican positions on equality and fairness.
As much as Republicans are trying to control the country by gerrymandering districts, contriving voter restrictions, and an unfortunate range of dastardly, un-American, deeds, what better way to ensure the assure neanderthal thinking than by denying students opportunity to learn critical thinking skills?
For years as a mathematics educator, I worked with teachers and students to encourage curiosity by posing meaningful, relevant problems. They would apply a range of problem solving strategies. They would share their thinking. They would self-critique. For the non-educator, consider a very basic four-step approach useful beyond the classroom.
Step one: Understand the problem.
Step two: Select a strategy (from among several developmentally-appropriate prototypes).
Step three: Act on the plan. Do the measurements, perform the arithmetic.
Step four: Decide if the outcome is reasonable.
Step five (if necessary). Revisit the problem, consider alternative strategies, repeat the actions, and justify the solution.
These four steps are the same applied in reading comprehension, in science and social studies research, everyday life. Different labels may be applied to each of the four steps but they are the backbone of critical thinking.
Do Republicans want people to understand comprehensive immigration policy? more equitable distribution of resources? limiting weapons of war to the military and the police?
Apparently not. They are, by choosing–not nature–a simplistic lot. The Rand-ians would reject teaching the masses critical thinking. They reject education reform. That is, unless it is aimed at undermining public education.
Strict conservatives oppose the teaching of higher order thinking skills because they believe the purpose of such an approach to educating children is to challenge a student’s ‘fixed beliefs’ and undermine ‘parental authority.’ I use the adjective neanderthal in the sense of primitive, crude, uncultured. Neanderthals reject enlightenment and sophistication. Texas Republicans evidence critical thinking as a subversive activity.
How else might one describe an approach to educating youth that rejects early childhood education, sex education, and multicultural education?
These are the same people who resist recognizing (or revealing for selfish political reasons) that our planet is warming, that human behavior is a major contributor, that time is critical; that human beings roamed this planet two hundred thousand years ago; that humans have rights–natural and constitutional; that there is but one definition of rape. The bleat goes on.
Professor Daniel Willingham is a psychologist at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on the application of findings from cognitive psychology and neuroscience to K-12 education. Willingham defines critical thinking as:
seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth. Then too, there are specific types of critical thinking that are characteristic of different subject matter: That’s what we mean when we refer to “thinking like a scientist” or “thinking like a historian.
Compare that with the Texas Republican platform of 2012:
On multiculturalism: We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups.
On early childhood development: We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.
On sex education: We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage.
On the Department of Education: Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education should be abolished.
To ensure student compliance, the Texas platform continues: We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas (as well as 18 other states).
These ideas are, most unfortunately, hardly limited to the GOP in Texas. They are more commonly being seen across the country by many “school reformers”.
The GOP is doubling down on learn-by-rote fact recitation – a classroom model spearheaded by the worst of the pro-testing advocates committed to anti-analytical teaching methodology. Their party is officially committing to learning as blind obedience.
Their scheme is closely linked to political indoctrination. Do not disrupt what may be a fixed belief. Sasquatch is real. Most scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot and consider it to be a combination of folklore
given a lack of physical evidence–as well as the large numbers of creatures that would be necessary to maintain a breeding population.
Based upon the most recent Republican primary debates we should expect this kind of thinking from Texas Republicans. Who most immediately come to mind? W.(Great job, Brownie) Bush, Rick (I can’t remember the third department I intend to cut) Perry, Louie (Terror Babies) Gohmert to highlight a few. Add Texas legislators who believe public schools are a communist plot.
It explains why their platform is based on preventing citizens from thinking critically. How might Republicans ever hope to get elected if Americans are taught to apply the elements of critical thinking?
There are certainly many among us, myself included, who are critical of current education politics. While a current push for increased accountability via standardized testing has rightly been characterized as potentially undermining instruction in critical thinking, this is a far cry from blatant opposition to teaching students to think deeply, to internalize critical thinking and problem solving strategies.
Bottom line–the leaders of the Texas Republican Party (and its many likenesses across America) evidently do not themselves possess higher order thinking skills. This leads me to favor accountability for all elected officials. Nobody should serve in elected office unless he or she can, at minimum, demonstrate a reasonable level of critical thinking skills.
Go ahead, call me an elitist.