Fear & Loathing in Texas: State Republican Party Seeks to Ban Critical Thinking in Public Schools

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Mexmigration

Fear & Loathing in Texas: State Republican Party Seeks to Ban Critical Thinking in Public Schools

Platform Prohibits Teach Higher Order Thinking Skills

What is it about the political rightwing in the Lone Star State? It seems like they are now competing with Arizona to take the lead as the nation’s most anti-education and anti-intellectual state.

Here is the actual language from a position statement in the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform:

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.

Where does this Republican fear of critical thinking come from? One would have to surmise it may be derived from two sources: Either (1) they learned some nifty reactionary ideas from the Arizona struggle against HB2281, the law banning the teaching of Chicana/o Studies in public schools, or (2) they understand that Texas public schools are now filled with a majority of minority [sic] students, most of them Mexican-origin, and it may not be a good idea to encourage them to become anything other than servants of the 1% by denying them anything but rote learning and vocational educations.

Ratio nos ducet: Reason will lead us. Not!

Both sources seem plausible. In Arizona, much of the opposition to Chicana/o Studies has been framed as an attack on “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), which opponents view as indoctrination and hate mongering.

Of course, the opponents of freedom of thought are actually the guilty on both counts: They wish to indoctrinate everyone based on the supremacy of whiteness. The telluric partisans hate difference and see Chicana/os and other indigenous and people of color as the “Threatening Other” or accept us as an amusing and exotic play thing.

John Huppenthal and John Pedicone, the Superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, want to replace critical pedagogies with a whitewashed version of multicultural education. This is sort of like burning down your Grandmother’s authentic taquería and instead limiting your choices to a Taco Bell® version of her Cochinita pibil; perhaps a Doritos® crunchy cheesy pink slime taco? Only here we are talking about the study of Mexican history, art, culture, philosophy, and science.

Of course, the rightwing has always specialized in blaming the Other for the very thing they are guilty of. You hate blacks? Blame the “Negro” for “hating Whitey” through the civil rights movement that becomes recast as a case of reverse discrimination against white men.

In a widely cited report appearing in Fox News Latino, John Huppenthal, the Arizona Superintendent of Schools, declared that Chicana/o Studies, was a problem and that “I think that’s where this toxic thing starts from, the universities.” The toxic thing he was referring to is “critical thinking,” which the proponents of HB2281 view as un-American and a threat to Western civilization and culture (qua, meaning Anglo American).

This is apparently the lesson the Texas Republicans have learned from the Arizona struggle over the future of public school pedagogies and curriculum.

Plures inferiores: Fear of the majority minority

The second source is also at work here: In 2011, Chicana/o and other Latina/o students became the majority in Texas public schools. They went from 49 percent to 50.2 percent. This represented a shift from 1999-200 when Chicana/os were 40 percent of the student population, African Americans were 14 percent, and Anglo Americans were 43 percent.

The data suggest that the student population in Texas public schools has been a majority minority for several decades. Is it mere coincidence that this demographic shift corresponds with the adoption of neoliberal policies that have attacked and undermined equity in school finance for Texas public schools? That this corresponds with the rise of a fervent anti-intellectualism and an anti-science disposition among the Republicans that have come to dominate the Texas public school textbook adoption process?

The battle over the shaping of textbooks in Texas illustrates the intensity of the rightwing struggle to gain control over the curriculum materials used by public school teachers and students: The most widely discussed example of this unfolded over the course of 2010 when the Texas State Board of Education decided that the state’s history and social studies textbooks would have to change their semantics: From now on, textbook authors would have to change their language and the slave trade would have to be called the “Atlantic triangular trade,” American “imperialism” would become “expansionism,” and all references to “capitalism” were to be replaced with the use of the term “free enterprise.”

The attack on critical thinking, or what the Texas GOP Platform calls “Higher Order Thinking Skills” represents the most recent iteration of a now familiar refrain: “Think like we tell you to think. Read only what we tell you to read. And the lack of truth will make you less free.” Oh, they leave that last part out!

The anti-intellectual tendency in Texas rightwing politics has a deeper history. Richard Hofstader made this evident in his 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Knopf). Hofstader could have been writing about post-2007 politics when he penned the following insightful observations about fundamentalist ideologies in Texas:

Although no one has ever tried to trace in detail the historic links between the radical right of the depression and post-depression periods and the fundamentalism of the 1920s, there are some suggestive continuities among the leaders…The late J. Frank Norris, a Southern Baptist preacher in the forefront of the anti-evolution crusade in Texas, later became one of the most colorful right-wing messiahs…(p. 132)

Clearly, Rick Perry is channeling Norris by mixing his Christian Reconstruction spirituality with fervent anti-science beliefs. The 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform merely solidifies this paranoid and moronic tendency.

Like the period from the 1920s through the Great Depression, today, this authoritarian thought-control streak is being combined with intensified white anxiety about the demographic shift that has already started to unfold in Texas as well as other states. In the twenties, the threatening Other was the “Catholic” although the Mexican “wetback” eventually came to occupy a central role as well during the so-called Repatriation Program.

The Derivatives Depression, as I prefer to call the “Great Recession” that started with the collapse of the subprime mortgage-driven real estate bubble in 2007, has unleashed a similarly telluric and xenophobic tendency. Only this time, the rightwing crazies control the rules for producing textbooks and shaping public school curriculum and pedagogy.

Obviously, it is time for Texas Chicana/os and their progressive allies to rise up and launch a social movement like the one in Arizona that will restore and protect our freedom of thought, our diverse cultures, and our right to understand the world through the broadest exposure to critical and scientific knowledge. Because scientia est potentia and the GOP can kiss my Latin all the way to the next revolt of the Cockroach People.

In the meantime, support the struggle of Sisyphus and visit our earlier story and donate to the defense of our Chicana/o studies educators:

http://mexmigration.blogspot.com/2012/06/sean-arce-and-jose-gonzalez-attacked-by.html

Devon G. Peña

Devon G. Peña, Ph.D., is a lifelong activist in the environmental justice and resilient agriculture movements, and is Professor of American Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. His influential books include Mexican Americans and the Environment: Tierra y Vida (University of Arizona Press, 2005) and the edited volume Chicano Culture, Ecology, Politics: Subversive Kin (University of Arizona Press, 1998). Dr. Peña is the founding editor of the Environmental & Food Justice blog, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.

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