Messing with Texas

I submit to you that the hardest challenge a writer will ever undertake is to use her words to change your mind about something. It’s child’s play to reaffirm ideas you already hold dear, it’s easy to strengthen ideas you’re already prone to, and it’s only moderately difficult to help you articulate something you believe but struggle to explain.

But to actually change your mind… that’s tough. Especially on a blog–how many of us even read blogs, or anything else, unless we’re already likely to agree with them? News articles with reliable, objective, new information might be the exception, except that journalists are continually thrown over for pundits, making such articles hard to find. And anyway, why read something objective and informative when you could read something with a little information and a lot of opinion that supports what you already think? I’m as guilty of this as the next person–it’s really easy for me to watch The Daily Show and call myself educated; it’s much more difficult to read the “World” section of the New York Times–which is to say nothing of how much I drag my feet to read, say, The Wall Street Journal. Bleh.

Jezebel is so much easier to stomach.

But the whole point of education is to learn something new–and not just learn it, but apply it. It’s not enough to know that “The God Particle” is just a nickname for the Higgs-Boson. In order to really be educated, I have to look beyond the headline and read a lot of difficult and dry scientific stuff–as close to a primary source as I can manage, not just an op-ed piece–to begin to understand just what the Higgs-Boson actually is. Then I have to call up that information every time I read about what the Higgs-Boson means regarding, say, religion, so that I can judge the new information against the old and decided for myself if I agree, disagree, or want to withhold opinion.

That is education. Not just the memorization of facts (though this is an important element as well, no matter how dull it seems), not just the understanding of those facts (again, still an important part), not even just the application of those facts to, say, a theory or principle, but the analysis of ideas–this is what critical thinking, and, thus, education, is.

As adults, it is up to us whether or not we pursue education. We can either read about Syria or we can read about the Kardashians. Or we can read about Syria, but only from the perspective of people who are likely to say something we like. Or we can read about how much better it would be if we were reading about Syria instead of reading about the Kardashians.

No matter what we do, it’s our choice. We’re not in school anymore, and we have every right to choose not to better ourselves.

We also have the right to choose for our own children. If I don’t want my child to be exposed to ideas with which I may not agree, whether those ideas seem too liberal for me or too conservative, I can keep her out of school. I can homeschool her or send her to a private school. I still have to pay my taxes to the public school, of course, because it’s not a free public education if the only people paying for it are those who are using it, but my child never has to darken the door of the facility. In fact, I’m well within my rights to prevent my kid from ever once being exposed to a piece of information or a line of thinking to which I have not already given my stamp of approval. (Well… sort of. But anyway, that’s a different conversation.)

I hope it goes without saying, though, that I don’t have the right to choose that for someone else’s child.

The truth is that free public education is a radical idea. We the people have all come together and said, “We want children–all children–to be taught to think for themselves,” and we want that education to be free, high-quality, identity-affirming, and nurturing. We want to pay for it even if we don’t have children ourselves. Even if we can’t stand our neighbors, we want to contribute to their children’s education.

Because we hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal.

In fact, the idea is so radical that I’ve suspected for some time that many people don’t actually believe it. They’ll pay it lip service, but when it comes down to the dollars and cents, they’d rather scream about teacher’s unions, illegal immigration, and school vouchers–in other words, issues that are so divisive, so complex, and, ultimately, so dry (if you really read the full-text primary sources on the subjects) that they muddy the waters and everyone forgets we’re all together here–we do have a common goal, and the road map for getting there is clearly marked.

That is, it’s clearly marked if we all agree that our founding fathers were right that everyone is equal and everyone should be educated as such.

Texas GOP crush your head!

I would actually get it if someone stood up and said, “You know what? I don’t agree with our founding fathers. We shouldn’t educate everyone equally, because everyone isn’t equal. The founding fathers didn’t know we’d be unable to close our borders. Christian, English-speaking Americans are equal, but everyone else is unwelcome, and we don’t want to educate them unless they want to become Christian, English-speaking Americans.”

I wouldn’t agree with them–I’d don my critical thinking cap and decide that these people were xenophobic, racist elitists–but I would at least have a little respect for the fact that they stood up and told the truth as they saw it. After all, I have respect for people who stand up and say, “You know what? I think the founding fathers had no idea that someday there would be AK-47s, and when it comes to gun control, I think we need to deviate from the road map now that these things exist.”

But what I don’t have any respect for, and what I find quite terrifying, is people who stand up and say, “Our founding fathers believed that only Christian, English-speaking Americans should be educated, and if you don’t agree with me, you’re an amoral, godless liberal who is launching an assault on America.”

Oh, I guess it’s not really terrifying that they stand up and say it. That’s common sense–if you want people to agree with you, throw around words like “founding fathers” and “morality” and “God.” What’s terrifying is that so many people buy it.

In fact, they buy it so much that the Texas GOP has now literally ratified, as their 2012 platform, their support for removing critical thinking from the curriculum. Here’s their actual language:

“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.”

They also believe that “the current multicultural curriculum is divisive” and they “support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded.” They also want to make it illegal for non-citizens to go to school.

In other words, if you aren’t a Christian, English-speaking (white) American, they don’t want you to be educated. Even if you are a Christian, English-speaking (white) American, they don’t want you to be educated–unless “education” means “being told things you already know and believe.”

They’ve since come out and claimed that they opposed “the teaching of critical thinking skills” by accident, but I don’t buy it. Why? Because critical thinking is by definition the “challenging of fixed beliefs.” In the sense that teaching a child to think for himself–which is to say, teaching a child–means teaching him not to believe everything he’s told by an authority figure, yes, education undermines parental authority. Yes it does. It also undermines the authority of the church, the authority of the government, and the authority of the teacher.

Because when child learns to think for himself, he learns not to believe everything he’s told. She learns not to believe everything she reads. In order to learn this, she has to learn to question her elders–not overthrow them, not disobey them, but question them.

And if you think the founding fathers would have been against this, you should really read up on your history.

In case you don’t want to take my word for all of this, here are some links:

Texas 2012 GOP Platform

Washington Post Article/Blog

Huffington Post