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It’s official: Texas GOP bans critical thinking

by Donald Prothero, Jul 18 2012


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.

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59 Responses to “It’s official: Texas GOP bans critical thinking”

  1. Max says:

    And skeptics oppose teaching “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. That is, they opposed the “strengths and weaknesses” language in Texas science education standards because it’s a code for inserting Creationism and other denialism into the classroom.
    Likewise, the Texas GOP sees “critical thinking skills” as a code for inserting leftist dogma into the classroom.

  2. Scott Hamilton says:

    I haven’t been keeping up with my skeptics news recently, but didn’t the Texas GOP say that “critical thinking skills” being in there was a mistake? Not very believable, but it seemed like they were running away from it. It may not be in there anymore.

    • tmac57 says:

      I heard that too,but I just now downloaded the PDF from their site,and it is still in there.

      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.

    • Max says:

      I don’t believe it was a mistake, but I believe that they think “critical thinking” is a slick label for some alternative education fads, the way “integrative medicine” is a slick label for alternative medicine fads.
      What’s more revealing is that they oppose “challenging the student’s fixed beliefs.”

      • tmac57 says:

        They also apparently want to alter what the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over:

        Remedies to Activist Judiciary – We call Congress and the President to use their constitutional powers to
        restrain activist judges. We urge Congress to adopt the Judicial Conduct Act of 2005 and remove judges
        who abuse their authority. Further, we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases
        involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.

        Yeah,where does the Supreme Court get off having any opinions about The Bill of Rights?!!!

      • Max says:

        Yeesh, didn’t see that one. Was that an accident too?

      • David Hewitt says:

        “Alter”–subtle error, but pithy nevertheless…

      • tmac57 says:

        Hmmm…maybe I should have used ‘altar’ instead ;)

        It would have fit in better with the overall tone of the document.

      • Carl says:

        The US Constitution actually does give Congress the power to exempt laws from judicial review. They’re not wrong about that part. It’s a power rarely exercised.

      • tmac57 says:

        Section 2 of Article Three of the United States Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the federal courts of the United States:
        The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority….

        Being as The Bill Of Rights is part of the Constitution,that seems pretty clear.But IANAL

  3. Max says:

    “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.”

    It’s not even a forgery like the forged Heartland Institute’s climate strategy of “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

  4. Max says:

    They mainly oppose some educational fad called “values clarification.”

    http://www.gospelway.com/topics/family/values_clarification.php

    People who doubt God and the Bible, also generally reject absolute values in favor of situation ethics. A favorite method used to influence students away from absolute values is “Values Clarification,” sometimes called “Decision Making,” “Values Education,” “Moral Education,” or “Critical Thinking.” Sometimes it is not called anything; it is just used. To people not familiar with the technique, it may seem confusing and perhaps harmless. But serious consideration gives understanding of the method and its consequences.
    Here is the typical approach:

    (1) The students are assigned an exercise involving a questionnaire, role-playing, or class discussion.
    (2) The exercise involves difficult or controversial moral or personal issues. Unusual hypothetical situations are often invented that make it appear that absolute values are unworkable or fanatical. Issues may be highly personal, private, or even embarrassing to some students.
    (3) Students may be told that “there are no right or wrong answers.”
    (4) Decisions are reached, not on the basis of research to accumulate and evaluate evidence, but on personal opinions, feelings, and peer pressure. (This amounts to “pooled ignorance,” yet is done in the name of teaching kids better ways to “make decisions” and “think critically.”)
    (5) Appeals to the authority of Bible, religion, or parents, are discouraged or even disallowed. If a student appeals to these authorities, he may be asked, “But how do you think it should be?” It is assumed throughout that the students are capable of reaching the right decision on the basis of their own current information and opinions without any outside source of factual information or guidance.

    This technique is used in any subject for any grade level. Common themes of discussion are death, sex, drugs, abortion, suicide, parenting, career choices, etc. Death education is one favorite topic for discussion because humanists believe there is no life after death, and they justify abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. They can use Values Clarification to indirectly undermine students’ beliefs about these matters.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      That sounds a lot like what we try to do at a good liberal arts college–challenge their simplistic dogmas and unjustified beliefs, get them to support their arguments with evidence, not fall back on authority without thinking. It may be a bit heavy for a lot of high schoolers, but it IS the kind of thinking we want educated citizens to possess, rather than being sheep who follow religious or political leaders without any thoughts of their own (“ditto heads”). No wonder religious and political conservatives find it threatening!

      • Max says:

        I agree that it’s fine for young adults in college, but not for kids of all ages. Teaching ethics is good, but with this group discussion approach, if the whole class is religious, what’s to prevent it from turning into Bible study? Invoking the First Amendment to prohibit religious arguments and only allow secular arguments doesn’t seem right either.

        The selection of ethical dilemmas can push certain values. It sounds like they focus on abortion and euthanasia, but if instead they focused on collateral damage and torture in a hypothetical ticking timebomb scenario, I bet the liberals would freak out.

    • Robert Corfield says:

      The Bible seems to me to be unreliable as a source of moral guidance. Leviticus says homosexuals should be put to death and elsewhere it says thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. That doesn’t sound very moral and contradicts one of the commandments. The Bible is inconsistent.

      • Max says:

        Students have to learn before they can intelligently debate something. You wouldn’t want a class on “science clarification” where students debate their existing beliefs about biology before they learn biology.

      • Robert Corfield says:

        But then would you want to teach children morals (or biology) from an unreliable source? Also children have an instinct about what is right and wrong. The words right and wrong are not totally meaningless to a child. It is not as if you need a GSCE (or the US equivalent) in morality in order to have a discussion about it. Maybe you’re right and schoolchildren are too young to learn critical thinking. But perhaps research could be done to investigate this ( if it has not already been done).

      • Max says:

        I’m ok with teaching ethics the traditional way, with lectures on different ethical systems, and questions like what would Aristotle say, or what’s the Utilitarian solution? That way it’s not personal. But if you’re going to ask what the Bible or the Koran says, then you have to teach it first, and the class turns into Bible study. And if you’re going to talk about apparent contradictions, then you get into the whole field of Christian apologetics.

      • Carl says:

        0bama was right about one thing,”Y’all don’t read your Bible”…
        We are reading it now,,,aren’t we?
        The first commandment,,” No other god before me…”
        The Ko-ran says the same thing..
        So pick one…
        I choose to pick the God of Life. Not the one of death.
        A god that you can understand,,,is not a god worth having..

      • Scott Hale says:

        You can not have critical thinking if you do not allow different points of view.

        Since you made the comment, “The Bible is inconsistent”, I assume you have studied the Bible in depth? Is that true?
        If you do not have the knowledge to accurately judge the Bible how can you make that statement?

        We are a culture that knows a little about a lot. We have no depth in our knowledge. Is that the public education systems fault? Is that why we have the lemmings that just follow the crowd and can’t think for themselves?

      • Indeed, I have read the Old Testament in original Hebrew, and the New Testament in original Greek. I have also read it several times through in several translations, and have been reading it since I was five years old. Until YOU can read it in the Hebrew and Greek and spot all the problems and inconsistencies and multiple contradictions that come from its composite origin and frequent miscopying, you are in no position to preach to me about the Bib.e

      • tmac57 says:

        Ha Ha! That’s why lawyers have a rule that says “Don’t ever ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to.” :)
        On a side note,even a cursory reading of the bible reveals all sorts of problems with human rights,cruelty,and contradictions,so while a scholarly understanding of it would give a person stronger standing in a debate,it is not necessary to realize that it is not a work of a supreme being as characterized by it’s proponents.

  5. Trimegistus says:

    Typical: Mr. Prothero is all in a pother about this but apparently has no trouble whatsoever with the way the (Democrat-supporting) NEA has gutted the quality of public education. I’m not defending the Texas decision but I do wish Mr. Prothero wasn’t so transparently selective in his outrage.

    • Somite says:

      Do tell. How has the NEA gutted the quality of public education? What gutted the quality of public education was “no child left behind” and corporate-style attempts at measuring student success.

      • Max says:

        By opposing merit pay and pushing tenure. If you can’t measure student success, how do you know whether the quality of public education was gutted?

  6. Phea says:

    Texas is a big state… I read the Texas GOP “dream” list, and… well, lets just say some battles shouldn’t be fought. I believe it would be a complete waste of time to say… try to teach a healthy male dog abstinence, for example.

    Usually when a door closes, another opens, and many clouds do have silver linings. We should celebrate the firm stand Texas is taking, we should encourage all like minded individuals to migrate to Texas. I would even go so far as to suggest tax incentives to help defray relocation expenses.

    People have a right to believe anything they want, and live their lives accordingly. I suggest Texas would be a perfect place for people to live who agree with the states policies. On the other hand, if you or someone you know is currently living there, you might want to consider helping them escape.

    • MadScientist says:

      Don’t be so cruel to the general population of Texas by dumping the national supply of hillbillies on them.

      • Retired Prof says:

        Hey, as a native of the Arkansas Ozarks I must object to the term “hillbilly.” No longer politically correct.

        The acceptable term is now “altitude enhanced person.” It’s not just an Ozark name, either; it’s also an Appalachian appellation.

      • WScott says:

        As a Rocky Mountain native, I am obligated to say: “Really, you guys have altitude in the Appalacians? Who knew?” ;)

      • MajorityofOne says:

        You guys could measure them and that should settle it :)

        Yes, recently moved out of the state of Texas to a liberal bastion out west. Much more to my liking.

    • Janet Camp says:

      Fine for adults, but what about the children? The worst thing about religio–yes, the worst thing–
      is its claim on the minds of children.

      • Max says:

        I assume that’s a reply to my post above. Imagine if the teacher and most students in the class are religious, and your child is forced to defend his/her personal secular values in front of peers and a hostile teacher who thinks secular values are the worst thing on the child’s mind and tries to undermine them.

      • Gloria Alvarez says:

        No need to imagine: that has been happening since before the founding of the country, and wasn’t stopped by the SCOTUS rulings forbidding teacher-led prayers and other religious expressions in public schools.

  7. MadScientist says:

    Holy crap. The TX GoP is a rabid TeaParty Zombie. The “Gold Standard”? Hahahahaha. Don’t they even know what a brief moment in history that was? If they can’t even understand why it won’t work, those fools should be drummed out of town. The precious metals system was failing long before Keynes came up with a replacement. One of the few sensible things that happened in the Reagan years was the final official separation of the currency from the gold reserve. Should we remind the GoP that it’s their superhero Ronnie who ditched the gold? Even that dumb B-grade actor knew better.

    • MadScientist says:

      I forgot to mention – the gold stockpile was also sold off. If the GoP want to go back to gold, the US dollar will be one of the most worthless global currencies given the amount guaranteed v. gold reserves. Then again, with the US dollar being worth less than a Mugabe dollar, maybe large corporations will shift jobs back to the USA … when pigs fly.

      • tmac57 says:

        If you read the entire document,you begin to get a very strong sense that much of it is pure pandering to a reactionary base,rather than a serious statement of political goals.

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  9. Chris Howard says:

    I was born in San Antonio (not my fault) and I live in San Marcos, TX., and I’ve lived, and traveled all over the U.S., and abroad… all I can say is, I thought Eastern Kentucky, and Southern Indiana were bad?! Someone help me get out of this crazy state! ;-)

    Smile. Nod. Drink a Shiner, and listen to the music while Rome burns.

  10. tmac57 says:

    To be fair,here are two of the hippie planks of the Democratic party in Texas:

    Health Care and Nutritional Supplements ― We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural
    supplements be on a prescription–only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other
    nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional
    products, and alternative health care choices.

    Unprocessed Foods ― We support the availability of natural, unprocessed foods, including, but not limited to,
    the right to access raw milk.

    Oh wait!!! Those were from the Tex GOP plank also…who knew?

    • Max says:

      I agree that vitamins and supplements shouldn’t be on a prescription-only basis, but the TV and radio commercials should say the FDA disclaimer as loud and clear as the drug commercials now have to say the drug side effects. I saw a Lipozene commercial where they said it’s “clinically tested,” and right then a tiny FDA disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the screen.

      • Max says:

        Actually, the commercial said, “Lipozene is clinically proven to reduce body fat and weight.”

      • double-helical says:

        Agree with the thought. How do the “supplement” people get away with the barely readable disclaimer at the bottom that states categorically that their product Does..Not…Work! ? Who thought that was a great idea?

  11. Willy says:

    Just as Barry Goldwater suggested, the GOP continues to commit suicide.
    Never mind their policies, turning the country into a defacto one party system cannot be good.

  12. d brown says:

    Look up the dangers of letting slaves know anything. The owners of Texas and the south have all ways hated letting good workers know too much. They want more and move away. That’s what all the South said about FDR and LBJ’s doings. And in those words. The ones on top down there will do anything to keep the rest down. And now they are running the rest of us. GM secretly bout land for a car plant in the 70′s. The county bosses (town fathers) tried to make GM not pay union wages. Then they raised taxes on that land only till GM gave up. the thing to remember about Texas was it was illegal to own slaves in Mexico. The Texas war of independence was over their right to get rich from owning them.

  13. DeLong says:

    Another very good analysis of what the Texas GOP did can be found on the 7/17/2012 episode of the Colbert Report. It is available on Hulu+ and is extremely pointed.

  14. Doug Crawford says:

    I am a fiscal conservative. Please do not judge all conservatives by this mindless dribble. This is what happens when you mix religion and politics. There can be no critical thinking in a religious environment, as it is completely faith based.

    Texas makes all this noise about being conservative, but I have never seen a state as dedicated to red tape and legal traps that complicate the lives of their people. They talk out of both sides of the head!

    • tmac57 says:

      One of those sides is decidedly south of the head.(Hey! Maybe that’s what they mean by “The south shall rise again!”)

  15. Amy says:

    It’s because they know that their policies do not hold up to any sort of critical thinking scrutiny. They want non-thinking sheep to buy their snake-oil. Notice that it’s okay to question evolution or science and teach the “pros and cons” but not when it comes to anything else. THEN, it’s “challenging fixed beliefs.”

    The Texas GOP is a bunch of extremists even by GOP standards, though. I feel for rational Texans living there. Not that my current state of North Carolina is a whole lot better, what with trying to legislate the exact degree of sea-level rise, or, more accurately, the way scientists can predict it.

  16. @blamer says:

    Outcome-Based Education “generally promotes curricula and assessment based on constructivist methods and discourages traditional education approaches based on direct instruction of facts and standard methods” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outcome-based_education

    Constuctivism “deals with the way people create meaning of the world through a series of individual constructs. Constructs are the different types of filters we choose to place over our realities to change our reality from chaos to order” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory)

    • Max says:

      Yeah, it’s odd that constructivism would get bundled with Outcome-Based Education. What’s outcome-based about it?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outcome-based_education
      “OBE in itself does not specify or require any particular style of teaching or learning. Instead, it requires that students demonstrate that they have learned the required skills and content. However in practice, OBE generally promotes curricula and assessment based on constructivist methods…”

      The Wikipedia article lists No Child Left Behind as an example of OBE in the U.S.

  17. Ramon R says:

    Critical thinking is the second-to-last phase in proper decision making methodology.

    A successful, moral & ethical decision can only be achieved if the most important phase has been fulfilled before critical thinking: EDUCATION, not indoctrination.

    Our educational system is failing our youth by not providing them with ALL elements that will allow them, on their own, to judge and discern with clear and unbiasedly learned elements.

    Currently, our kids in schools, more in public than in private schools, are not presented with ALL sides to a dilemma or a problem; it is more important to be PC than C, thus the results. If our teachers (legally shaded by unions) do not provide our youth with all sides to the story, all sides of our history, what outcome do we expect? Never be afraid of the truth, no matter where it leads you!

    Just as my parents did, I have tried to “arm and load” my kids with knowledge. I am not afraid to be doubted or challenged on any issue, as long as the challenge is presented with arguments and respect.

    Out of frustration and plain “stupidity” the Texas GOP included a generic blank blind statement on their platform that reads as follows:

    “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.”

    The subsequent polarization of positions has tainted the discussion to the detriment of our children and their necessary “critical thinking” preparation.

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