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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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on July 11, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Hello Jonny, you and your fans should love this Dennett/Dawkins discussion I came across today:

    http://manwithoutqualities.com/2012/07/10/dawkins-dennett/

  2. When I first saw this I was hoping it was a poe, but it’s been floating about for a few weeks now, and no sign of the Texas GOP, or anyone else affiliated, distancing themselves from it.

    • It very much has the ring of truth about it to me. It’s the wording – the way Higher Order Thinking Skills, OBE, values clarification, and mastery learning are all lumped into one thing. Those are four distinct educational concepts, and it’s typical of the Christian Right to group them all together with no real understanding. Compare the Republican statement with Pat Robertson:

      the newest application of Dewey’s model is outcomes-based education (OBE), which holds that it doesn’t matter whether or not children know the specific facts so long as they feel good about themselves and develop “tolerance for cultural diversity.” . . . This form of behaviorism has wreaked havoc with every level of achievement of American public school students.

      Robetson thinks John Dewey, William Spady, and B.F. Skinner are all exactly the same. There’s no room for nuance or subtlety, or even attempting to understand the other point of view.

      • Thanks for that Matt. In that article, I find this:

        TPM asked Elam what the intent of subcommittee had been in including the “Knowledge-Based Education” plank.

        “I think the intent is that the Republican Party is opposed to the values clarification method that serves the purpose of challenging students beliefs and undermine parental authority,” he said.

        So it’s not a retraction at all.

      • @jonny – I couldn’t reply to your reply, so I am writing it here…I was posting this link in response to the first sentence, “Hot news from across the pond: The Texas Republican Party election platform for 2012 wants to stop critical thinking in schools.” The link I posted shows that this is not the case…”that the plank should not have included ‘critical thinking skills’ after ‘values clarification.” I believe their intent was to respond to the values clarification trend that was/is popular in education. So, that certainly is a retraction on that point.

        As far as education not undermining parental authority, that is a good thing. Children are not wards of the state. Parents should get to decide what their children learn, or at least they should be made aware of what is being taught. The problem is when things like “values clarification” principles get placed in odd places, like math textbooks. Kids don’t end up learning math facts, they end up learning a secularist agenda. I think this is what they were responding too.

      • Values clarification, as a term, doesn’t seem to have come into fashion over here (I haven’t come across it in my teaching), so I can’t speak about whether the way it is implemented in US schools is good or bad.

        The “clarification” from the Republican Party sounds much more like a hasty retreat following public backlash to me, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

        The rest of what you say sounds a great deal like complete drivel. Children are not wards of the state, but they are not property of their parents either. Parents do not have the right to decide what their children believe, and, assuming the ideas are age appropriate, they should not censor what ideas their children come into contact with.

        There is, as far as I am aware, no such thing as a “secularist agenda”. If educators are trying to push a particular worldview on students, I would challenge that vociferously. In my experience, though, the only people talking about “the secular agenda” are people with religious agendas. Just like they’re the only people talking about the gay agenda.

        Higher order thinking skills enable children to evaluate the ideas they come into contact with. And that may mean they end up rejecting the values and religion of their parents. That’s what the Republican Party is opposed to, and they have no right to oppose it. Children are free to make up their own minds. HOTS and values clarification, as I understand the terms, are tools that enable children to do this.

      • My whole point was that the main point of the article above was clarified by the link I provided. The Texas GOP is not for banning critical thinking in schools.

        Children are certainly free to make their own minds – just as you did. No one can be forced to believe anything, but someone is going to decide what kids learn, and it’s going to be the state or the parents. Kids don’t decide for themselves what to learn.

        While I don’t “own” my children, as a parent, I should definitely have a say in what they learn even to the point of censoring what I think are harmful ideas – that’s good parenting (do you have kids?). To say that as long as an idea is age appropriate it should not be censored doesn’t make sense to me – who determines what is age appropriate? Again, someone has to make a decision and that someone is the parent or the state. Parents don’t own their kids, but they do have a responsibility to raise them and part of raising them is making decisions for them until they are prepared to do so on their own.

        “If educators are trying to push a particular worldview on students, I would challenge that vociferously.”

        Educators are constantly pushing worldivews on students. Education is not amoral and every teacher teaches their subject matter from their worldview. The bottom line question is: which worldview will be taught? But, education does not take place in a vacuum.

        “Higher order thinking skills enable children to evaluate the ideas they come into contact with. And that may mean they end up rejecting the values and religion of their parents. That’s what the Republican Party is opposed to, and they have no right to oppose it. Children are free to make up their own minds. HOTS and values clarification, as I understand the terms, are tools that enable children to do this.”

        Critical thinking skills (a better term than higher order thinking, in my opinion) are necessary, and these are taught in public and private schools throughout the USA. If Republicans were opposed to this, as you say they are, they would not send their kids to school anywhere.

        On the other hand, values clarification is what you might call drivel (I think you used that to describe what I said earlier :). This is not a tool to help kids think through issues, it is designed to indoctrinate (the very thing Republicans are accused of) kids into a secular worldview. You see, it’s just a matter of who determines what kids learn, which again, I think should be the parents and not the state.

      • With older children especially, there are ways to approach the teaching of values which are close to neutral. Or if not neutral, at least which recognise that there are a range of acceptable viewpoints which can be held in a free society.

        I don’t think exposure to an idea can be harmful, if the children are given the tools to evaluate it critically. I’ve googled values clarification, and the idea is that children take a look at their values, and decide what’s important to them. If, in the process, they decide to reject their parents’ values, the parents have to accept that. This idea that being taught about something is the same as being indoctrinated is bogus. I took a history class for two years and I never had any idea what my history teacher’s political views were. In the class, our views ranged from socialist to extreme free market liberal, because we were allowed to evaluate and decide for ourselves.

        The Republican party spokesperson said, in that clarification, that he opposed challenging students’ beliefs. I think all beliefs should be challenged. As far as I’m concerned, until a belief has been challenged and subjected to scrutiny, it holds no validity.

  3. I got spanked for alleged scoring violations. I never cheated intentionally. The two meanest and biggest teachers beat me with a paddle and then wanted to prey with me. What a joke.I Hate PACE and ACE and want it destroyed. It ruined my life. I’ve carried this hate since the early 80’s. If I ever see the people who abused me they are gonna pay. I was a skinny geek. Now i’m 250 lbs. 6′ of solid muscle(except for my beer belly) hell bent on revenge. Thank you for exposing this cult and the criminals behind it. I love this website and all the work you do in our behalf. What kind of sick F*^% likes beating a young boy?

    • Wow. I’m really sorry to hear your story.
      I think it’s important to see an end to ACE for the good of the kids in the system now and in the future. For those of us who are out of it, I think it’s best that we find a way to get over it and enjoy the rest of our lives. I’m glad to hear from you, and I hope you have a great life when you’re not being angry about this.

      I know what you mean about the scoring violations. My supervisor told us there was no such thing as an innocent mistake – it was our sinful nature rebelling against God.

      • Thank You @jonnyscaramanga for taking the time to reply …not just to me but everyone:) I’m in therapy now trying to recover from a.c.e. Violence against these people is stupid…It wil ljust get me in trouble. I’m not going to lower myself to that level. but I need a constructive way to deconstruct their abusive “power”.

      • Hey, that’s good to hear. I’m sure you’ll succeed. For me, life is better now than it ever was.

  4. Nothing to add as yet: just subscribing.

  5. Slate.com did a short blurb article about the Texas GOP’s platform too. They even included a PDF of the platform itself. (can see it here http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/06/27/texas_gop_children_are_property_not_people_.html)

    Scary stuff, especially if you’ve come out of this on the other side. Any of those cute little christian-speak phrases could have come out of the mouth of my teacher, or mother. Poor Texan kids :(

  6. I don’t know what to say when I first received the parcels with the PACEs, for something that was supposedly educationally sound, I felt as if the text in the study material was ‘speaking’ at a slow speed and over repeating its points. As for proof reading their material goes, in one of the muliple choice sections in the elementary level of Word Building, my children came across ‘kunt’ on the list of words that a child was supposed to fathom out as being the correct spelling or meaning for whatever they were learning at the time; now this little detail makes me wonder if any child being taught at one of their (ACE) schools would perchance come across this dubious word and would say it out loud, would the poor kid have received a chinning from the supervisor? For all their sanctimonious, self importance, this organization is so naive and child like in a brattish way. I thank God for my children’s incessant questioning of everything, their curiousities, their love for art, music, literature and the sciences. I can only hope that parents who have their kiddies currently enrolled on this unethical curriculum, wake up and see it for the pile of poop that it is before they part with anymore of their hard earned cash in buying further material from those fruitcakes.
    Jonny, I look forward to more of your exposing of this organization’s repellent side…..You are the Van Helsing to their Count Dracula!!!!!!

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