Educational Policy: Banning Critical Thinking

Teacher Tom: None Of This Serves Children

http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/none-of-this-serves-children.html#.T_pVmsnuUvk.wordpress

The Texas Republican Party recently released it’s 2012 party platform. Under the “education” part of the document they called for an increase in the use of corporal punishment, opposition to mandatory preschool and kindergarten, and support for legislation that would ban the children of undocumented residents from public schools, all of which flies in the face of scientific evidence and common sense, but perhaps the craziest thing of all:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills . . . critical thinking skills and similar programs . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The Center for American Progress, a major progressive think tank, recently released a report entitled Increasing the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Existing Public Investment in Early Childhood Education, in which they seem to be calling for us to double-down on the corporate reform education policies of the past two presidential administrations by bringing standardized testing, the de-professionalization of teaching, and federally mandated curricula, all with an economic focus, into kindergarten and preschool classrooms. It’s a report written by two economists and the “money quote” (pun intended) is from yet another economist named James Heckman, this one with a Nobel Prize no less, who warn us once more, breathlessly, that the Chinese are beating us! The report writers say that they “assembled a number of highly respected experts in the early childhood education field, who are listed in the front of this report,” but this reporter has been unable to locate said list anywhere on their website. I really would like to see which “experts” signed off on this nonsense.
 
There are few things upon which the right and left agree in this country, but one of them is to be dead wrong about education policy.
 
But, you know, we keep hearing how both sides are working hand-in-hand on this, in a bi-partisan manner, to bring us schools with lots of tests that focus on “trivia” instead of critical thinking skills, a top-down curricula that mandates what children learn rather than on teaching them how to learn, young, cheap teachers who could have just as easily have been “trained” to flip burgers, and a carrot-and-stick approach to keeping everyone in line.
 
Oh, and spankings will be administered until teh children haz learned.
 
None of this, from either the left or right can be supported by what research tells us about how children learn, brain development, or best practices. None of this supports the purpose of public education in a democracy, which must be civic, not economic. None of this serves children.
 
The good news, I think, is that our political system is so dysfunctional right now that the two sides, even though they seem to agree on all their key points, will still cancel one another out. The bad news is that this means yet another generation of students, parents and teachers stuck making lemonade from lemons. I could almost live with this situation, one in which those of us most invested (those same students, parents, and teachers) are sort of left alone to cobble together a high quality education for our kids, but now that corporate interests have focused in on the pot of gold represented by the nation’s collective education budgets, I don’t think they’re going to stop, unless we stop them, until they’ve privatized the whole thing, turning our children into “human resources” in their for-profit education schemes. Money, as it usually does, might well trump ideology in this case. Check out what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss had to say in the Harvard Business Review about proposed new national education standards, which she admits will do nothing to improve learning:

“(Common Core) radically alters the market . . . Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”

So as you can see, it’s a sort of win-win for right, left and corporations, leaving students, parents and teachers with even smaller, harder and more sour lemons with which to work.

 To take a survey of the media landscape, you would think there is very little opposition to what’s going on in the nation’s capitol or in state houses around the country, but you would be wrong. You rarely see “our side,” the side not championed by either of the two political parties, represented in the mainstream media exactly because it is a well-known “fact” that if a point of view is not held by Democrats or Republicans, then it is too fringe-y for serious discussion.  
 
Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author, who was appointed to high level education department positions by presidents of both political parties, is one of the few voices regularly included in the national debate. I admire Ms. Ravitch immensely, as I do other champions for real education reform such as Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, EdWeek bloggers Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, founder of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, director of Race To Nowhere Vicki Abeles, teacher and blogger Dave Reber, and the good folks at both the Rethinking Schools and Shanker Blogs.
 
There are hundreds of other voices out there as well, many probably more worthy of my list, doing the good work even if we rarely hear their voices outside the blog-o-sphere. And it’s adding up. Arne Duncan has complained about the “bloggers” who are opposed to his plans. Bill Gates (the most prominent of the corporate reformers) has called us his “enemies.” Despite our invisibility on the national stage we are being at least somewhat effective in pushing back as a grassroots movement outside the confines of the two-party system, but so far they see us as more of a nuisance than a real political force.
 
There are a lot important issues that need our attention, I know, but this is a biggie. Without higher order thinking skills we’re lost. This is a call to get involved, not just for your children, but for the future of America. Read these writers, write those letters, run for office, let your representatives know you will vote on education issues. We can’t let the spankers and the testers win.
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6 comments

  1. I think what this article is saying is that educational policy is driven more by money and economics, by producing children that can pass tests and “keep up with the Chinese” rather than gearing eduational policy and funding for education in a way that is good for the children. The republicans in Texas are arguing that it should be legal to spank children in schools and that crtical thinking should not be taught. It’s so ludicrous it’s hard to even imagine that this type of thinking exists. This is not about child development and what is best for education. It’s about economics and politics. Does that help to explain it?

  2. Those folks own my state. I’m working on getting some corporal punishment data and cross referencing it to test scores or getting some professors at LSU to do it. Of course facts and statistics are useless to this generation of policy makers that vote with their gut, which is fed by corporate check books. Still, its my best shot for doing something in Louisiana, the red headed step-child of Texas.

  3. If there is a chance it will tick off wealthy or influencial donors or supporters that support it, it won’t get any traction. I just read an article that the Catholic Bishop of New Orleans banned CP use at the last Catholic school that practiced it in the nation, so maybe there is hope. I fear Jindal will yield to the Northen Baptists in my state which is where it mostly employed and veto any legislation banning CP. None of his vetos, no matter how asburd or universally unpopular, have been overridden. A Governor of Louisiana has the power of a third World dictator, and basically the same demogrpahics, so i guess it makes sense.

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