No Critical Thinking in Texas

Living in the USA has its advantages and drawbacks. I live in a great little town, know lots of fabulous people, have a great community of scholars (both locally and nationally), and can avail myself of some excellent microbrew beers. However, the conservative/republican/religious axis is an ever-present reminder of the downside.

The 2012 report of the platform committee for the republican party of Texas makes for some chilling reading (pdf here). Some of the highlights include getting rid of affirmative action, abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, allowing employers to discriminate against employees with “sinful and sexually immoral behavior”, opposing homosexuality, repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, opposing any mandatory vaccinations, and opposing sex education in schools. You can read discussions of this report here, here, and here.

Here’s another of the gems included in this document:

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.

Wait… this was a mistake! According to this report, the inclusion of “critical thinking” was an oversight. The republicans are not opposed to critical thinking skills. So why did they include it? It seems that what they are actually opposed to is challenging students’ beliefs and undermining parental authority. Is that clear? Critical thinking is fine, as long as it doesn’t challenge existing beliefs or encourage children to question anything their parents have told them.

I assume that the reasons behind the opposition to challenging beliefs are concerns that children might question their religious upbringing, accept gays, and/or become feminists. However, it is not “just” these kinds of beliefs and values that would be affected by the rejection of critical thinking. A generation that is taught to reject critical thinking would also be handicapped in many other ways, including how to make good financial decisions, and whether to accept medical advice from a magazine, TV show, or a website. Those who are accepted into universities would have a steep learning curve, particularly in science disciplines.

In scientific domains such as medicine, evolutionary biology, and climate science, there is a tension between scientific and pseudoscientific arguments. This tension is illustrated by the acceptance of medical practices that are not based on science and evidence, anti-evolutionary claims, climate change denialism, and the assertion that autism is caused by vaccination. These are all cases of an uncritical stance among the public and media. Pseudoscientific arguments often rely on logical fallacies, appeals to magical thinking, and a lack of empirical support from controlled experiments, (e.g., homeopathy). In order to successfully evaluate such claims, critical thinking skills are necessary. Without such skills, children would grow up with little regard for science and evidence.


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