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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 07/09/2012

Texas GOP rejects ‘critical thinking’ skills. Really.

(Update: Stephen Colbert’s take; other details)

In the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff department, here’s what the Republican Party of Texas wrote into its 2012 platform as part of the section on education:

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.

Yes, you read that right. The party opposes the teaching of “higher order thinking skills” because it believes the purpose is to challenge a student’s “fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.”

It opposes, among other things, early childhood education, sex education, and multicultural education, but supports “school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded.”

When taken with the other parts of the education platform(see below), it seems a fair conclusion that the GOP Party in Texas doesn’t think much of public education. Unfortunately, this notion isn’t limited to the GOP in Texas but is more commonly being seen across the country by some of the most strident of “school reformers.”

It should be noted that after the plank in the platform was ridiculed, Texas GOP Communications Director Chris Elam told TPM.com that it was all a big mistake and that opposition to “critical thinking” wasn’t supposed to be included. It can’t be easily removed, he said, because the platform had been approved by a party convention and any changes would also have to go through the same process. That clears things up.

You can see Stephen Colbert’s hilarious take on this episode by clicking here.

It also seems worth noting that there is some question as to whether critical thinking can actually be taught. University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham argues that it cannot be taught in this 2007 article.

First Willingham defines critical thinking this way: Critical thinking consists of 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.”

Later in the article he writes: After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it’s time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really. People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill.

But of course, that isn’t what the Texas GOP is arguing. It sees “critical thinking” as something subversive. Scary stuff.

Here’s the rest of the education section of the Texas GOP’s 2012 platform:

American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – 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. Students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism.

Basic Standards – We favor improving the quality of education for all students, including those with special needs. We support a return to the traditional basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, and citizenship with sufficient discipline to ensure learning and quality educational assessment.

Bilingual Education – We encourage non-English speaking students to transition to English within three years.

Career and Technology Education (Vocational Education) – We support reinstatement of voluntary career and technology education, including adjusting the 4x4 requirements as needed, without detracting from non-vocational program requirements.

Classroom Discipline –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.

Classroom Expenditures for Staff – We support having 80% of school district payroll expenses of professional staff of a school district be full-time classroom teachers.

College Tuition – We recommend three levels of college tuition: In-state requiring proof of Texas legal citizenship, out-of-state requiring proof of US citizenship, and nonresident legal alien. Non-US citizens should not be eligible for state or federal grants, or loans.

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.

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.

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.

Educational Entitlement – We encourage legislation that prohibits enrollment in free public schools of non-citizens unlawfully present in the United States.

Funding of Education – We urge the Legislature to direct expenditures to academics as the first priority.

Higher Education – We support merit-based admissions for all college and university applicants to public institutions. We further support the repeal of the 1997 Texas legislative act commonly known as the Top Ten Percent Rule. All Texas students should be given acceptance priority over out-of-state or foreign students.

Juvenile Daytime Curfew - We strongly oppose Juvenile Daytime Curfews. Additionally, we oppose any official entity from detaining, questioning and/or disciplining our children without the consent of a child’s parent.

Local Control for Education – We support school choice and believe that quality education is best achieved by encouraging parental involvement, protecting parental rights, and maximizing local independent school district control. District superintendents and their employees should be made solely accountable to their locally elected boards. We support sensible consolidation of local school districts. We encourage local ISDs to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of accepting federal education money.

No Taxpayer Paid Lobbyists – We support the prohibition of any paid public school employee or contractor to lobby the legislature or the SBOE, unless on an unpaid basis and in an unofficial capacity. No registered lobbyist should be allowed to run for SBOE.

Parental Rights in Education – We believe the right of parents to raise and educate their children is fundamental. Parents have the right to withdraw their child from any specialized program. We urge the Legislature to enact penalties for violation of parental rights.

Sex Education – We recognize parental responsibility and authority regarding sex education. We believe that parents must be given an opportunity to review the material prior to giving their consent. We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage.

Parental School Choice – We encourage the Governor and the Texas Legislature to enact child-centered school funding options which fund the student, not schools or districts, to allow maximum freedom of choice in public, private, or parochial education for all children.

Permanent School Fund – We believe that because the Permanent School Fund is not paid by taxpayers that the principle balance should be safeguarded and not viewed as a source of additional funding for our state budget.

Political Community Organizing in Texas Schools - We believe neither Texas public schools should be used nor their students should be instructed by groups such as SEIU or other community organizers as instruments to promote political agenda during the instructional school day.

Private Education – We believe that parents and legal guardians may choose to educate their children in private schools to include, but not limited to, home schools and parochial schools without government interference, through definition, regulation, accreditation, licensing, or testing.

Religious Freedom in Public Schools – We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents.

School Surveys and Testing – Public schools should be required to obtain written parental consent for student participation in any test or questionnaire that surveys beliefs, feelings, or opinions. Parental rights, including viewing course materials prior to giving consent, should not be infringed.

State Board of Education (SBOE) – We believe that the SBOE should continue to be an elected body consisting of fifteen members. Their responsibilities must include:

— Appointing the Commissioner of Education

— Maintaining constitutional authority over the Permanent School Fund

— Maintaining sole authority over all curricula content and the state adoption of all educational materials. This process must include public hearings.

The SBOE should be minimally staffed out of general revenue.

Textbook Review – Until such time as all texts are required to be approved by the SBOE, each ISD that uses non-SBOE approved instructional materials must verify them as factually and historically correct. Also the ISD board must hold a public hearing on such materials, protect citizen’s right of petition and require compliance with TEC and legislative intent. Local ISD boards must maintain the same standards as the SBOE.

Supporting Military Families in Education – Existing truancy laws conflict with troop deployments. We believe that truancy laws should be amended to allow 5 day absence prior to deployments and R&R. Military dependents by definition will be Texas residents for education purposes.

Traditional Principles in Education – We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems. We support curricula that are heavily weighted on original founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and Founders’ writings.

School Health Care – We urge legislators to prohibit reproductive health care services, including counseling, referrals, and distribution of condoms and contraception through public schools. We support the parents’ right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children. We oppose medical clinics on school property except higher education and health care for students without parental consent.

U.S. Department of Education – Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished.

Zero Tolerance – We believe that zero tolerance policies in schools should specify those items that will not be tolerated at schools. The policy should be posted on ISD websites.

Transparency – We support legislation requiring all school districts to post their expenditures online or made readily available to the public.

Foreign Culture Charter Schools in Texas – We oppose public funding of charter schools which receive money from foreign entities. We demand that these Charter Schools have accountability and transparency to local parents, taxpayers, the State of Texas, as do current public schools, including U.S. citizenship of public school trustees.

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