Mike Kueber's Blog

August 5, 2012

Further thoughts regarding the Texas GOP and critical thinking

While on my bike ride this morning, two thoughts struck me regarding my posting yesterday about the Texas GOP and critical thinking.  To refresh your memory, the problematic plank in the 2012 GOP platform 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.

My first thought about this plank was to remember that several months ago, I wrote an open letter to a friend, Ken Mercer, who happens to be a member of Texas’ notorious State Board of Education.  In the letter, I suggested that high school students in Texas “should be taught the generic subject of decision-making….  a way of thinking that identifies and overcomes common decision-making flaws like having too little information, too much information, stereotyping, etc.  This is the kind of education that will benefit our high school graduates for the rest of their lives.”  Mercer never responded to my letter, and if his thinking corresponds with that of the GOP platform, now I know why.   

My second thought about the GOP plank is that, although former Clinton advisor Paul Begala has a right to criticize it, he reveals a lack of integrity by attacking it out of context.  While writing in Newsweek, Begala said the following:

  • Texas Republicans hate the heavy hand of government. And so they oppose mandatory preschool and kindergarten, mandatory immunizations, mandatory, well, mandatory mandates. It’s one thing to be antigovernment. It’s another to be pro-stupid. Yet the Texas GOP actually opposes thinking. Seriously, their platform proudly declares: ‘We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills, critical-thinking skills, and similar programs.’ As the Texas populist Jim Hightower likes to say, if ignorance is bliss, these are the happiest people on earth.”

Not only did Begala take the quote out of context, he was dishonest in including only half of the sentence in his quote.

FYI (according to Wikipedia):

Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) has been around at least since 1956 and it concerns six levels of thinking skills – knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation – of which the top three are considered critical to critical thinking.

Outcome-based education (OBE) is a student-centered learning philosophy that focuses on empirically measuring student performance, which are called outcomes. OBE contrasts with traditional education, which primarily focuses on the resources that are available to the student, which are called inputs.  While OBE implementations often incorporate a host of many progressive pedagogical models and ideas, such as reform mathematics, block scheduling, project-based learning and whole language reading, 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 and discourages traditional education approaches based on direct instruction of facts and standard methods.

Neither of these concepts sounds very subversive to me.

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