No matter what our political or religious persuasions in the skeptical community, we all hold to some basic ground rules of skepticism. We all agree that critical thinking and questioning authority is a good thing, that humans are easily misled into all sorts of errors of logic, and that it’s easy for any of us to be fooled. Many of our skeptic books are largely about the topic of critical thinking, and the recent efforts by the Skeptic Society to promote critical thinking courses in colleges and universities across the nation are just part of this. Every meeting of CSI, JREF, and other skeptical organizations remind us that critical thinking and questioning authority are essential to getting past the garbage that clutters human thinking and behavior.
In emphasizing critical thinking, we are fully aware that there are powerful organizations (especially religious and some political organizations) that don’t want us to think critically, don’t want us to ask questions, don’t want us to challenge their authority. Many of us are deeply involved in battling religious interference in science and science education, or political interference in scientific and educational decisions made by organizations with clear agendas that don’t stand up to critical scrutiny. Many of us were raised in Sunday School classes where we asked tough questions and were told to shut up, or to stop disrupting class, or something to avoid the fact that the Sunday School teacher had no good answer for that question. We can imagine powerful politicians and their people chatting among themselves privately that those damned skeptics keep messing things up, and we have to stop their interference.
But you’d never expect these people to come right out and say that they don’t like critical thinking. Surprise! This was just articulated by the platform of the Texas State GOP in June 2012. The document is complete laundry list of pro-business, social conservative, and extremist right-wing talking points: abstinence-only sex education (which has been a miserable failure so far); corporal punishment of kids; trying juveniles as adults; opposing the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (which forbids child slavery); faith-based drug rehab; flat-rate income tax; repeal of the income tax, and replacing it with the sales tax, which hits poor people most and favors the rich; return to the gold standard (despite the warnings of economists, both liberal and conservative, that it won’t work); privatizing Social Security (as if the lessons of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown were not enough); repealing the minimum wage; opposition to homosexuality in any form; opposition to the Employee Non-Discrimination act (so that employers can go to the bad old days of racial and sexual discrimination and harassment); continued opposition to ACORN (which hasn’t existed since 2010); opposition to states rights or voting rights for District of Columbia; unyielding support of Israel (because to fundamentalists, Israel must exist so that biblical prophesies can come true); ending multicultural education (so that the white supremacist viewpoint would not be challenged by the histories of minorities or women); a decree that “controversial theories”, such as evolution and climate change, should be taught in a manner that can be challenged and their content debated or minimized; reducing or ending public education and switching to voucher-supported private schools; repealing the Civil Rights act and Affirmative Action, and the Voting Rights Act (because they don’t want minorities to challenge their whites-run society). But the most shocking statement in the entire document was the following:
“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.”
That’s right. You didn’t misread it. It’s not a satirical lampoon, a Poe (a parody so broad that it could be mistaken for some crazy creationist screed), or some post from The Onion. No, it’s right there in black-and-white: the Texas State GOP is officially opposed to critical thinking! What we suspect they whisper among themselves is now a public proclamation of policy. And the last phrase is almost too bizarre for belief: they explicitly don’t want their kids to think critically because their ideas might challenge “the student’s fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority.” That’s it in a nutshell—the classic dogma of fundamentalist churches and authoritarian states. Don’t think for yourself, don’t ask questions, don’t rock the boat, because the Church, the GOP and your parents are the ultimate repository of truth, and we don’t want to have the lies we told you as children undermined by anything like education.