This Is What We’re Up Against

Hot news from across the pond: The Texas Republican Party election platform for 2012 wants to stop critical thinking in schools.

In a characteristically brilliant article, “Texas GOP Will Literally and Non-Metophorically Ban Critical Thinking in Schools,” Wonkette’s Doktor Zoom skewers the plan:

“But the awesomest part of the platform is to be found in the section on Edumacation. No, it’s not the ringing endorsement of corporal punishment, nor is it the predictable support for promoting freedom by forcing children to pledge allegiance to both the US and Texas flags. Heck, it’s not even the subtle shift from an open ‘Cdesign proponentsist’ agenda to a pseudo-neutral call for students to be able to answer ‘God Did It’ on a biology test ‘without fear of retribution or discrimination,’ or even the plan to base all US History lessons on the art of John McNaughton.

“Nope, the real zinger of the 2012 GOP platform is what appears to be a declaration of war on rational thought itself.”

At this point, you’re probably assuming, along with most of the world, that this is a joke. But no, the indefatigable Kylie Sturgess has found a pdf of the Republican manifesto, and it really does say 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 challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Wow. So beliefs can – should! – be fixed (a bad start), and challenging those beliefs is a bad thing.

When I’ve told you that Accelerated Christian Education does not teach higher-order thinking skills, you assumed it was a failing of the system, didn’t you? Well, you were wrong. It’s meant to be like that.

I urge you to read the Wonkette article, because it makes a number of points so brilliantly that I’m not going to bother repeating them. Doktor Zoom argues that the Christian Right is not really opposed to critical thinking. It’s only opposed to critical thinking that comes up with the wrong answers – ie, any answers that challenge what they already believe.

In large part, Doktor Zoom is right (although we shouldn’t underestimate the presence of good old-fashioned anti-intellectualism among the Religious Right). Christian Education Europe, for example, claims that ACE does develop critical thinking skills. Since every academic who’s ever looked at it has concluded the opposite, how are we to take CEE’s claim?

Simple. “Having critical thinking skills” means “knowing how to reject any idea we don’t like.” Specifically, it normally means “critical thinking about science,” which really means “knowing a lot of untruths which supposedly refute evolution.”

Some of ACE’s British supporters are not as extreme as their swivel-eyed American counterparts. Maranatha Christian School headmaster Paul Medlock, quoted in the latest TES, comes out with the following astonishing statement:

“We buy into the curriculum and we use it as we see fit; we are not signing up to an ideology. There are things I wouldn’t necessarily align myself with, but these become interesting discussion points for the pupils. Whatever programme you look at, there will be something in it that is inaccurate, as our understanding is changing all the time.”

I know Paul Medlock well. He was at university with my Dad, which is the reason I went to his ACE school in the first place. If he actually believes what he said there, the man deserves an award for services to doublethink.

Interesting discussion points? No critical discussion whatsoever was permitted in my day. I’ll give Mr. Medlock the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s learned some things in the last 13 years. He might even have a reasonable point, if “Does the Loch Ness Monster disprove evolution?” were a conversation worth having, and if the ACE system rendered students capable of critical discussion.

This is what I mean about UK supporters being less extreme than the Americans: I don’t think Paul is genuinely opposed to critical discussion, but he won’t admit that the curriculum is designed to stop it. Dr. Donald Howard, founder of the ACE School of Tomorrow, wrote a book called Your Church Can Have a Christian School, in which he described ACE as “designed for programming the mind.”

That’s an astonishingly frank admission. ACE’s motto is “Reaching the World for Christ… One Child at a Time.” There’s no mention of education. The primary purpose is religious conversion. Critical thinking skills aren’t necessary for that. If anything, they’re likely to hinder the process. That’s why Professor Brian Hill (a Christian) observes that the materials seek “to obtain decisions for Christ which by-pass the individual’s rational autonomy.”

Of course, teenagers are going to ask questions, so ACE has a plan, and you can see it at play in a pullout from an English PACE. Necessary background knowledge: The entire philosophy behind ACE is that there are three kinds of learning: Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom. Knowledge and Understanding fall under what most ACE supporters would call “book-learnin’”, and their importance is minor in comparison with WISDOM (which is usually capitalised). WISDOM, they claim, only comes from knowing God and reading the Bible, and is the primary aim of the curriculum.

“The fact that you ask question indicates that you really want to learn and that you want WISDOM.”

What’s this? ACE encouraging students to ask questions? Surely not.

“Man’s first responsibility in the quest for answers about life and WISDOM is to love God.”

This is clever. It does not try to suppress questions entirely, which would be impossible. Instead, it only allows you to look for answers within its own prescribed limits. Ace (the hero of all PACE comics) later says, “Life makes sense only when our actions agree with God’s ways.” And how do students respond to this lesson on critical thinking? With an essay? No. By filling in the blanks with the correct answers ACE has prescribed. Welcome to thinking for yourself, fundamentalist style.

It’s fine to ask questions, as long as you get your answers from the (fundamentalist interpretation of the) Bible. CEE’s promotional literature says it teaches children to think critically within a Biblical framework. It’s highly debatable whether the system even does that, but it goes without saying that the framework itself cannot be challenged.

So Paul Medlock can say that controversial points within ACE provide interesting points of discussion, but I don’t believe him. For one thing, staff in ACE schools have no desire to see children questioning their faith. But more importantly, students spend the majority of their time studying a curriculum specifically designed to inhibit that ability.

This is indoctrination. ACE admits it. Christian Education Europe admits it. Why won’t Paul Medlock?

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