In 1927, the United Negro College Fund adopted its famous motto: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Forty years later, the Texas Republican Party seems to have adopted a slightly edited version of the UNCF’s motto. The Texas GOP, naturally, keeps it simple: A mind is a terrible thing. That especially goes for very young minds exposed to the dangers of critical thinking.
It appears that the conservative effort to save America’s youth from the scourge of "overeducation" reaches all the way to kindergarten.
The Texas Republican Party met in Fort Worth recently, to adopt its platform for 2012. And what a platform it is. On education alone, it affirms the party’s support of corporal punishment in schools, and its opposition to both pre-school and kindergarden. But the most revealing, if not surprising, revelation was an affirmation of the party’s opposition to critical thinking. I’ve never seen it spelled out quite this explicitly.
In the section titled "Educating Our Children," the document states that "corporal punishment is effective" and recommends teachers be given "more authority" to deal with disciplinary problems.
Additionally, the document states the party opposes mandatory pre-school and kindergarten, saying parents are "best suited to train their children in their early development."
The position causing the most controversy, however, is the statement that they oppose the teaching of "higher order thinking skills" — a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking — arguing that it might challenge "student’s fixed beliefs" and undermine "parental authority."
It simply must be read to be believed.
Now that it’s rocketed all over the blogosphere, earning the Texas GOP a well-deserved deluge of derision, the party says it was all a big accident.
Contacted by TPM on Thursday, Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Communications Director Chris Elam said the "critical thinking skills" language made it into the platform by mistake.
"[The chairman of the Education Subcommittee] indicated that it was an oversight of the committee, that the plank should not have included 'critical thinking skills’ after 'values clarification,’" Elam said. "And it was not the intent of the subcommittee to present a plank that would have indicated that the RPT in any way opposed the development of critical thinking skills."
Elam said the members of the subcommittee "regret" the oversight, but because the mistake was part of the platform approved by the convention, "it cannot be corrected until the next state convention in 2014."
TPM asked Elam what the intent of subcommittee had been in including the "Knowledge-Based Education" plank.
"I think the intent is that the Republican Party is opposed to the values clarification method that serves the purpose of challenging students beliefs and undermine parental authority," he said.
Maybe it’s just me, but Elam’s statement is just a thinly disguised version of the opposition to critical thinking stated explicitly in the party’s platform.
Critical thinking is purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do in response to observations, experience, verbal or written expressions, or arguments. Critical thinking may involve determining the meaning and significance of what is observed or expressed, or, concerning a given inference or argument, determining whether there is adequate justification to accept the conclusion as true. Hence, Fisher & Scriven define critical thinking as "Skilled, active, interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications, information, and argumentation." Parker & Moore define it more narrowly as the careful, deliberate determination of whether one should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim and the degree of confidence with which one accepts or rejects it.
Critical thinking gives due consideration to the evidence, the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making the judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the nature of the problem and the question at hand. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness.
Given Elam’s explanation, and what Texas Republicans have already done to education in the state, I think the only accident was that the Texas GOP released its platform without sufficiently veiling its positions in.
Texas Republicans are afraid that their children will taught how to think, instead of what to think.
One of the teachers who influenced me the most was Mr. Harrison, my high school English teacher. He taught me that the purpose of education was not to teach me what to think, but how to think – how to examine and question what I was told; to not merely "know" what I thought, but to understand why I thought or believed as I did; to be be able to support my own views with fact and reason, but willing to listen to another’s arguments, question my own assumptions and discard them if they didn’t stand up under scrutiny.
…One day, towards the end of our senior year, as we were talking about post-graduation plans (everyone in my graduating class was headed for a college or university somewhere), Mr. Harrison talked about some of the classes behind ours.
"You people," he said to our class, with a hint of pride, "already have your own ideas. I can’t mold you. But people coming after you," he said as a note dismay crept into his voice, "come to my class and they sit here and wait for me to tell them what to think."
During many class discussions, Mr. Harrison indulged and even encouraged my tendency to play "Devil’s Advocate," questioning the popular interpretations or assumptions about a book or a piece of literature. Perhaps he just wanted someone to start the discussion. But perhaps he saw in my face and those of several of my classmates, a spark of recognition of – and desire for – the freedom he wasn’t so much giving us as guiding us towards.
Mr. Harrison was less concerned with what we thought, whether we thought rightly or correctly, or whether we thought what we were "supposed to" think. He was concerned that we learn how to think. He was less concerned about where we ended up than that we knew how we were getting there and why we going there.
The parents fretting about the possible "indoctrination" of their children – by hearing from a president who came from modest beginnings but was carried far by his intellect, the education available to it, and his good sense to take advantage of it – are probably worried more about what their children think than that their children learn how to think.
For some people a mind is a terrible thing, if possessed by someone who knows how to use it.