Thinking Critically about Education

Alarming news: Republicans don’t want kids to think critically anymore. That’s not just conjecture - the Texas GOP put that in its official educational platform for 2012. In addition to promoting classroom corporal punishment, wanting to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, saying that abstinence-only sex education is the only valid approach, and deriding a “multicultural curriculum” as “divisive”, the document said this:
“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 challenge the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
In other words, don’t teach kids how to think. Teach kids how to memorize, how to regurgitate, and how to follow orders, but when it comes to students having original thoughts that come out of their own brains, they “oppose”. And they can mask it as not wanting to stress the “student’s fixed beliefs” (also known as maturation) or undermining parents (also known as typical teenage behavior), but the bottom line is that they don’t want to give people the tools to think for themselves. People who think independently challenge authority and are less susceptible to propaganda. This is an attempt at passive mind control.

When I was a teacher, helping my students to think critically was my number one goal, not to mention the most challenging. You can’t force kids to engage in higher order thinking (particularly kids who have been discouraged from doing so all of their lives) as it is an internal process, but I did my best to put them in situations and give them assignments where critical thinking would be a natural extension for those who were ready. Specifically, I used literature as my medium. At the end of the day, I didn’t care much if the students couldn’t remember the name of any poets, so long as engaged with the poems on a deeper level.

This published policy of limiting thought substantiates my beliefs toward education. You can call it a conspiracy theory, but I think the reason the public education system is failing is because the powers that be have no use for it anymore. Whereas the elite used to need a reasonably educated working force to staff its factories, technology is replacing the need for jobs. So why fund education (hence the across the board slashing of taxes allocated to schools) when it doesn’t benefit the elite like it used to? In fact, if anything, having an educated, unemployed populace will only cause more trouble as the will have the knowledge to speak out against injustice and fascism.

Furthermore, while I think most teachers are still committed to their professions, their jobs are severely restricted by higher-ups. In most school settings, teachers are told very specifically what they have to teach and how they have to teach it. Regulation does not help education, it impedes it. It dilutes learning to a formula – a purposefully unsuccessful formula, I’d argue.

Another item on the Texas GOP’s platform calls for government to stop funding kindergarten. How many studies need to be done showing how crucial early education is in creating lifelong learners before people believe it? While the GOP argues that parents should decide how to educate their kids in their early years, who else is going to be able to afford to pay for kindergarten? This obstacle, just like massive (and rising) tuition rates, is about making education inaccessible to the masses. The rich will always be able to pay for their kids to be educated (and thus maintain their wealth and status), while the poor will have limited options for self-improvement.

I left teaching because, as much as I loved being an educator, I hated being a babysitter. More than half my job was about disciplining and making sure kids were constantly doing what they were told. It was about teaching directly to standardized tests – not teaching them how to write well, but how to write exactly how the test graders were looking for when they spent no more than thirty seconds skimming each essay. No wonder so many kids reject school.

All of this is to say: be wary of a government that doesn’t want to actually educate you. If the government doesn’t want you to think, it has its own best interests in mind, not yours. Education and critical thinking is one of the few tools humanity has to save itself. We need to reflect honestly (and swiftly) to respond to the rising social, political, and environmental problems that face the world. Don’t let them take away critical thought – those who are having it ripped away don’t even know how badly they need it.


Lena said...

More people need to hear what you have to say.

Aaron Raymond said...

Ah Texas, the more I read about your education policies and desired policies the more I can't wait to leave.
This is scary and disappointing, and your analysis is spot on, though I need to point out that in Texas at least, dismantling the public school system in the US is very often a key motivator for these stances.