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texas gop education creationism critical thinking christianity atheism
Anti-creationism poster. (Silly Deity, Flickr, Public Domain)

If you still aren’t convinced America’s pre-college school system has for many years systemically dismissed down-to-earth critical thinking in favor of supernatural religious assumptions, consider what the Texas GOP actually wrote into its educational platform in 2012.

Titled “We Believe in America,” the platform, proposed some eyebrow-raising stuff regarding education in the state, which Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss in a 2012 article fairly categorized in the “you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff department.” The title of the article: “Texas GOP rejects ‘critical thinking’ skills. Really.” For example, the GOP platform proclaimed:

“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. [see page 20 of the platform]

Another section of the platform trotted out the old trope — then soon to be ruled unconstitutional in court — that science teachers should be able to teach alternate “theories” in various disciplines, such as the creationist (i.e., supernatural) in questioning of the foundations of biological evolution. The GOP platform proposed (although evolution is not controversial but rather the consensus bedrock of modern science):

“Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”

Curiously, after the education platform was roundly ridiculed, Texas GOP Communications Director Chris Elam unconvincingly told Talking Points Memo that “it was all a big mistake and that opposition to ‘critical thinking’ wasn’t supposed to be included.” However, he added it was too difficult to remove the language. I could find no evidence it ever was. But this year, the Texas Legislature is apparently now more exercised about not allowing the teaching of “critical race theory” in the state’s public schools, according to this July 16 report in the Texas Tribune:

On Friday, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 3 in an 18-4 party-line vote. The legislation strips out an upcoming requirement created by the regular session’s so-called ‘critical race theory’ bill that students learn white supremacy is ‘morally wrong.’[bold face mine]

Heaven forbid children should ever learn that. In a 2014 article in the independent online news nonprofit Truthout, Danny Weil warned that evangelical creationists are ever more devious in their methods of insinuating faith into children’s minds in America’s schools:

“Alternative beliefs such as creationism are now cleverly invited into the curriculum as so-called science or theories to debunk the purportedly false notions of the theory of evolution.”  But if critical thinking is not to be used in the classroom, how would these beliefs be examined for evidence? Science, the scientific method, critical thinking and the process of subjecting claims to evidentiary experimentation – all related activities – pose a threat to self-proclaimed power and the harbingers of supernaturalism.”

(I wrote about the startling lack critical-thinking curricula in U.S. schools in my July 17 post, titled “Trump, right-wing media, evangelicals share guilt in Covid disaster.”) Talking Points Memo, an independent news site that is “particularly focused on reporting on abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust,” noted in an article when the GOP platform was publicly released about a decade ago:

“Elsewhere in the document, the platform stipulates that “[e]very Republican is responsible for implementing this platform.”

The Texas GOP’s intent with its educational platform was transparent. In adherence to the conservative authoritarian mindset of the Republican Party, Weil wrote:

“[T]he people must be taught the ideology of what is morally acceptable, what rules and regulations to follow. and even more importantly, how to accept and internalize hierarchical authoritarianism. Critical thinking is a direct challenge to the ‘leaders’ and their claims on authority, and any opposition to vertical arrangements is ethically unacceptable to those in power. “Reactionaries have long known that enshrining ignorance and hierarchy in both thought and practice within the school curriculum is essential if the control of young minds is to be accomplished softly and quietly yet profoundly through propaganda and perception.” management. In the quarters of obedience training, ‘education’ has nothing to do with ‘schooling’ under capitalism.”

In other words, the GOP believes children should be taught to not question authority or the received “wisdom” of “authorities.” Instead, proposed retired high school teacher Frank Breslin in a 2015 Huffpost op-ed:

“The following warning should be affixed atop every computer in America’s schools: Proceed at your own risk. Don’t accept as true what you’re about to read. Some of it is fact; some of it is opinion disguised as fact; and the rest is liberal, conservative, or mainstream propaganda. Make sure you know which is which before choosing to believe it.”

Breslin added:

“Teachers caution students constantly against taking what they read at face value, since some of these sites may be propaganda mills or recruiting grounds for the naïve and unwary. Not only egregious forms of indoctrination may target unsuspecting young minds, but also the more artfully contrived variety, whose insinuating soft-sell subtlety and silken appeals ingratiatingly weave their spell to lull the credulous into accepting their wares. “To prevent this from happening, every school in America should teach the arts of critical thinking and critical reading, so that a critical spirit becomes a permanent possession of every student and pervades the teaching of every course in America. This would be time well-spent in protecting students from the contagion of toxins on- or offline. “While ensuring students’ physical safety is a school’s first order of priority, the school should be no less vigilant in safeguarding them from propaganda that will assail them for the rest of their lives. Caveat emptor!”

Sane advice, which doesn’t seem to have been widely adopted in America during the last decade, especially in the last five years. Oh, and the Texas GOP back in 2012 also stressed that teachers should be able to hit students again for punishment. Might as well beat their bodies while strangling their minds, right? The GOP, long describing itself as a promoter of self-reliance, doesn’t appear to have evolved much since 2012. This statement in the final two lines of the preamble to the Texas Republican Party’s 2021 platform, which tracks national GOP priorities, reveals its Christian fundamentalist mindset:

Every time we sing, ‘God Bless America,’ we are asking for help. We ask for divine help that our country can fulfill its promise.”

Unfortunately for Texans, no “help” will likely be forthcoming from above. Their leaders should be looking down, not up, for answers.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...