texas gopAndrew Rosenthal of The New York Times posted at Taking Note about one of the planks in the Republican Party of Texas party platform – the opposition to teaching “critical thinking skills.”  In his title he said no comment is necessary.

Commentary is necessary, and context is king when reporting on something like this.  The plank reads:

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.

Listing critical thinking skills, the Texas GOP spokesperson said was a mistake.  I’m sure it was.  Let’s look at the big picture here why did they include the plank?  Because outcome-based education focuses on “behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Talking Points Memo which was the original source for Rosenthal’s post actually did a better job reporting this:

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.

It was a mistake, and the point was to make it clear that education should be just that – not indoctrination which unfortunately it has become as I’m reminded in a blog post by Peter DeWitt as he describes what his role as a “21-century elementary principal” should be:

Principals were once seen as the person sitting in an office waiting for the next student to discipline. Those of us in the role know that principalship is much more than that. It is about leading teachers, helping students and communicating with parents. It is about sharing a vision and negotiating the building through major changes in education. It is about creating a culture of respect in which all students, no matter their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, are treated with fairness.

The leading teachers part I totally agree with, that should be job one. Unfortunately schools instead are focusing on the latter “creating a culture of respect” which isn’t always respectful of students’ beliefs.

This is the focus of the Texas GOP plank, schools yes should teach critical thinking skills.  If you teach history and literature properly, for instance, that should be a natural byproduct.  So they aren’t against critical thinking skills as Rosenthal wants to point out without comment, but rather against parental sovereignty being undermined as it often is in public schools.

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