Most think of education as learning something new. That idea was turned on its head in Texas.
The Texas Republican Party has the following plank in its 2012 platform: “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.”
The quoted plank comes from The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts, in a July 2012 column. Naturally, Pitts is outraged at the thought of this, but let’s take it line by line, shall we?
Higher Order Thinking: Do Texans not want children thinking too much? When students do something wrong, and a parent asks, “What were you thinking,” should the student respond: “I didn’t want to upset you by violating the Higher Order Thinking ban.”
No critical thinking allowed: Despite numerous reports from employers that they are looking for more people who are good critical thinkers, no matter what job they apply for, the students in Texas should NOT be good at this, the plank seems to state.
Outcome-Based Education: Do Texans want their students to have no outcomes from their education, other than, perhaps, the acquisition of a piece of paper that says they graduated? Do they want them to learn NOTHING in school that might encourage them to learn more, perhaps outside of school, the home, or church?
Now, we are getting to the heart of the matter. Some folks out there believe that whatever your mother, father or preacher tells you is the absolute truth. Anything you see or hear that contradicts that is false. We hear people talk about the need for higher education, and at the same time call the institutions of higher education indoctrination centers, whose goal is to poke a million holes in a student’s core beliefs – or, as Texas calls them, “fixed beliefs.”
There are all kinds of ways to go with this concept. Should all “fixed beliefs” be iron-clad? Do we want our students to respond, “we can’t do it that way, because we were always taught to do it this way,” when their employer shows them a new way to do something that may be more efficient, improve quality or make their lives easier? Or, God forbid, they discover FOR THEMSELVES a new way of doing things? It may be safe to presume that the platform plank is Christian oriented. How would the proponents of this feel if, say, Muslim students could not learn new ways of thinking, so as not to challenge their fixed beliefs and undermine their parents’ authority?
Some private schools are operated by religious establishments. Some allow students who are not practitioners of that religion. In some schools, those students can opt out of religion classes, and still get a good education in practical, secular disciplines.
The public schools, to which the platform plank refers, should contain no religious orthodoxy in any class. They should teach the students of all religions, or no religion, exactly the same way. Decades ago, students had no problem reconciling what they learned in church, at home or at school, regardless of how the material may have seemed contradictory. If they are having that problem today, it may be because of disputes among parents and various institutions.
The definition of faith is to believe something is true without necessarily having proof. The definition of science is to suspect something may be true, then seek to prove it right or wrong. We may never have proof that things in our faith are true. That’s not to diminish faith. Faith can be a powerful, positive motivator and a good foundation for one’s character. But everyone, students or otherwise, must understand the difference between faith and science. Everyone should have some of both in their lives. Beliefs should not be so powerful that they cannot change under any circumstances. Faith should never be so powerful as to inhibit real learning.

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