Re-thinking the GOP platform

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“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.”
­— 2012 Texas Republican Party platform

If only they knew.

At the University of Texas at Austin, the average student faces so many events beyond HOTS and OBE that challenge his or her “fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.”

A partial list of such moments: seeing toenail clippings and leftover macaroni in the shower drain in a Jester bathroom; being assigned a nudist roommate; discovering that ultimately everything (rice, eggs, wet socks) is microwavable; failing to eat or sleep for 48 hours, then sleeping for 72 hours and waking only to eat; witnessing a water pitcher fly from a West Campus balcony and trigger no reaction from passersby; experiencing the depth of deprivation necessary to pass an organic chemistry test; realizing that the Perry-Castañeda Library building’s floor plan mimics the shape of the state of Texas; and drinking nine beers.

It’s tough to take seriously the state Republicans’ educational philosophy, which was published along with their other positions in the 2012 platform, and voted on during the recent party convention in Ft. Worth, Texas June 7-9. But, Republicans hold the majority in the Texas Legislature and occupy most of the elected offices in Texas. A majority of Texans support their views; hence, they affect us all.

The drafters of the Republicans’ platform devoted two-and-a-half pages to positions under the heading “Educating Our Children.” In addition to the proposed banning of HOTS and OBE, the platform calls for ditching multicultural education that “emphasized differences”; teaching and giving “equal treatment to all sides of scientific theories ... including intelligent design”; repealing the ‘Top 10% Rule’ so Texans rather than out-of-state or foreign students get first dibs (still on a merit basis) on all slots at state universities; abstinence-based education; and putting all public school expenditures online.

Political bloggers had a field day attacking the platform, focusing negatively on its opposition to “critical thinking.” In response, a Republican Party spokesman said the inclusion of “critical thinking” was an error and oversight. But the term “Higher Order Thinking Skills” describes a set of learning objectives meant to promote “critical thinking,” as first articulated by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 book “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.” The correction therefore leaves Republican leaders’ intent intact: they don’t want students to go to schools where they might develop the skills they need to question the ideas their parents put into their heads.

But the party goes astray by making the insulting and incorrect assumption that Texas students are unable to think for themselves. By advocating for a public education system that prohibits your exposure to ideas different than the ones you heard at your family’s dinner table, the Republican Party is suggesting that students would most certainly adopt and adhere to any idea taught in class. Besides being insulting, the Party’s proposal to bar the teaching of critical thinking, HOTS — or whatever you want to call listening and reading, debating, and then agreeing or refuting ideas — presents long-term dangers.

Places and times change rapidly. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was once a Democrat. So were most Texans. The Texas Capitol used to have a gate on its northernmost end to keep the cattle out. The roads around UT’s Tower were once dirt.

UT and schools in Texas strive to educate the future leaders of the state. The present worries and concerns of our state policymakers will serve as fodder for a seventh-grade Texas history class in less than a decade.

The notion that students should be protected from views different from those of their parents is like putting an entire generation of third graders on a school bus and making sure not a single one ever learns to drive. Thirty years pass, the drivers die and you have a state filled with adults unable to move the bus forward and lead us through the challenges of that future day.