Texas Republicans oppose “higher order thinking skills”

Oh my.

The position causing the most controversy, however, is the statement that they oppose the teaching of “higher order thinking skills” — a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking — arguing that it might challenge “student’s fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.”

No, it’s not the Onion, though I wish it was.  They also support corporal punishment in schools and don’t much care for kindergarten.

But hey– at least philosophers can have a lot of fun with what sorts of things are ruled out if you oppose higher order thinking.  (Put your list in comments.)  


Thanks, Mr Jender!

29 thoughts on “Texas Republicans oppose “higher order thinking skills”

  1. Isn’t education grand? For instance, let’s take a look at the original quote, and what ended up on this site.

    From the TX GOP 2012 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.

    Then we go to the Reddit’s top-page version, as linked.

    Texas GOP: “We oppose the teaching of higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills and similar programs…[which] have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    Wow, that looks like some inventive editing. And then, of course, we have this site’s version.

    The position causing the most controversy, however, is the statement that they oppose the teaching of “higher order thinking skills” — a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking — arguing that it might challenge “student’s fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.”

    I love the (de-)evolution of the quote. It starts off strongly implying that the problem isn’t with critical thinking skills, but with particular education programs that have “Higher Order Thinking Skills” as their curriculum label. Reddit slices that up to make it more juicy, but at least shows that there’s been editing. And finally, we get the version on here – chopped up and reworded, with nary a clue that any editing as gone on.

    “Oh my” indeed. ;)

  2. Higher-order thinking = Thinking about thinking. The position that higher-order thinking should be banned is a position about thinking. So, by its own lights, it ought not to be thought.

  3. Crude, I don’t think your objection is right. The platform plainly opposes Higher-Order Thinking Skills (which is, as you say, the name of a program) and critical thinking. There is a non-restrictive clause and a restrictive clause modifying, although the wording leaves it somewhat ambiguous which is which, but that doesn’t change the fact that the platform is opposed to what reddit says it’s opposed to. I don’t think reddit did any ‘inventive editing’.

    Maybe you’re reading the platform differently, but it’s pretty clear to me that the clause about outcome-based education is the platform’s own gloss (in my opinion incorrect) on what HOTS and critical thinking amount to. It’s very badly written (ironically), so maybe it bears a different interpretation.

  4. Let me add that what jender posted, from reddit, seems to me to be absolutely true and not at all misleading.

    Also, Ross, there is no problem with higher-order thinking, as long as it is practiced without *skill*.

  5. Crude, I don’t think your objection is right.

    What I am objecting to is not in dispute. It is a point of fact that there were 2 instances of progressively worse editing. This isn’t speculation – I’ve linked to and documented this explicitly. Read it for yourself.

    Do I really need to get all anal and point out the specific changes? Notice how “Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)” changes in the original version to “higher order thinking skills”, with (HOTS) removed. The whole point of the OP, and the point of the reddit post, was to make it sound as if the TX GOP was opposed to, literally, higher order thinking skills – not a particular educational program. Notice how so many of the responses are “Durrhurrhurr the GOP is against higher order thinking skills”. The people pointing out that HOTS is a particular education program are lone voices in a crowd.

    The OP *here* implies that the TX GOP is opposed to higher order thinking skills, period. This is hardly better than taking someone’s opposition to the Patriot Act, reporting them as opposing patriot acts, and then smugly talking about how they must despise their country if they’re against patriotic acts. I’d say this is a subtle point to follow, but not when you actually dig up the source and provide it like I have.

    Reddit, and the post here, suggest that the TX GOP is opposed to higher order thinking skills – the skills, not a damn educational program. The post *here* goes a step further than the reddit butcher job, taking a heavily edited statement and presenting it as a straight quote. Even reddit’s poster at least had the decency to imply that they were editing the original source, though they still skimmed over the HOTS->higher order thinking skills capitalization and acronym change.

    To circle around on this again: that the two quotes were heavily edited – changing capitalization which would affect the understanding of what was being discussed, slicing out whole sections, and (in this site’s case) then neglecting to show any indication that any editing took place – is not in dispute. It can’t be, because it’s a sheer fact, not anyone’s opinion. Trying to turn this into ‘well, I think it was clear, despite the impression so many redditers had, despite the impression and joke made in the OP’, won’t work.

    But hey, I’m not here to try and get anyone to admit fault. I know better. I’ve supplied the data to compare – it speaks for itself. I just felt like interrupting an echo chamber today – my task is complete.

  6. I think it’d be enough to take the positive claims by counterposition: they advocate rearing young minds such that they accept parental authority without question and maintain fixed beliefs –presumably the set of fixed beliefs they decide. Hence *any* skill with a general application and open-ended results is reprehensible; it might lead the individual owning it astray. The matter is thus simply thinking, not even higher order thinking, and its autonomous exercise (aka cognitive freedom). We don’t need niceties about spinning things here: this is just plan barbarism, out in the open and proudly pronounced.

  7. Hi Crude,

    I’m disputing that the editing is ‘worse’. Obviously there were changes (all editing involves changes). I explained why I thought your objection was incorrect, so now you could say what you think is wrong with my explanation.

    I take the point about the difference between the name “Higher-Order Thinking Skills” and the lower-case description – I’m so familiar with the name that I didn’t notice the lack of capitalization. I don’t agree that the post is trying to imply that the Texas GOP is against the skills rather than a program, though; the Huffington Post quotation says clearly that it is a curriculum.

    HOTS does indeed strive to encourage critical thinking, and the GOP platform quite explicitly opposes teaching critical thinking skills, and for the reason that it might challenge students’ fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority. The fact that “higher-order thinking” means something rather different and more specific in philosophy I took to be… a joke.

  8. I’m with jamiedreier at 5 and 6 here. The passage from the platform is a grammatical mess but it does admit of the readings given in reddit and the OP here.

    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.

    The problem here is the way the passage moves back and forth between specific programs and general approaches. To wit: is the parenthetical “values clarification” supposed to modify only HOTS as a program, or is it supposed to indicate any and all approaches to examining and clarifying values? What is the status of “critical thinking skills”? It seems to be a generic approach that is being rejected here, something that could be be addressed in any number of “programs,” not just HOTS. What is the status of “similar” in “similar programs”? That again seems to take the edge off the focus on HOTS proposed by Crude: it’s not just HOTS that is being rejected, but all approaches that teach “critical thinking skills” (the lower case indicating a genus, not a species). Now we come to the “that” which restricts the rejection of HOTS and of the teaching of “critical thinking skills” to approaches / programs that are “simply” (this is doing a lot of work here) a relabeling of OBE, which is said to focus on “behavior modification” (do the authors of the platform really believe that Skinnerian principles are applied in the classroom?) aimed at “challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” As 5 says this is a tendentious reading of the teaching of “critical thinking skills” but if the platform is opposed only to the use of programs employing Skinnerian principles, then I guess I could sign on to that: imagine the problems getting all those students into boxes with levers that drop food pellets in front of them! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTwnwbG9YLE).

  9. I expect that at the heart of the Texas GOP’s objections are not higher-order thinking skills as such, but rather ideologically driven curricula that have assumed for themselves the neutral-sounding rubric of “critical thinking skills”, . Crude probably has the right instinct overall.

    A piece by Stephen Zelnick of Temple lays out some of the objections that are probably shared by the Texas GOP:


  10. This thread looks like it might be a bit full of over-analyzing. What jumped out to me about the quote is that it looks like what is called a “Kinsley gaffe”: when a political body or person accidentally announces what it’s really thinking….even (and especially) if that’s not what it really meant to say.

    But, yes, the full platform is pretty bad. State parties have a tendency to write absurdly radical platforms. See, for example, the Montana GOP platform that for years called for the criminalization of homosexuality.

  11. Hi Nemo,

    Zelnick’s argument seems to me to be extremely weak. Did you mean to endorse it? I couldn’t quite tell.

    I thought the Texas GOP platform was quite clear about what its objections to critical thinking are. Critical thinking undermines parental authority, and it has the purpose of challenging students’ fixed beliefs. If the objection was something else, I’d expect they would say so — they don’t seem to be shy about saying what they mean.

    John, I don’t think the ‘that’ clause restricts the rejection in the way you say. Reading very strictly it could restrict the rejection of ‘similar programs’ in that way, but I doubt that’s what was intended; I think the restrictive clause is intended as their own gloss. But it is a mess and hard to read.

  12. It turns out a mistake was made; TPM saya:

    ‘Contacted by TPM on Thursday, Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Communications Director Chris Elam said the “critical thinking skills” language made it into the platform by mistake.

    “[The chairman of the Education Subcommittee] indicated that it was an oversight of the committee, that the plank should not have included ‘critical thinking skills’ after ‘values clarification,’” Elam said. “And it was not the intent of the subcommittee to present a plank that would have indicated that the RPT in any way opposed the development of critical thinking skills.”

    Elam said the members of the subcommittee “regret” the oversight, but because the mistake was part of the platform approved by the convention, “it cannot be corrected until the next state convention in 2014.”

    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.’

  13. Well, that’s much more reasonable. It’s OK to develop critical thinking skills, just as long as you don’t apply them to your beliefs.

  14. Thanks for the update, Anne! Jamie: everything you said, especially the bit about the joke. Liam and Ross: fantastic contributions. More of these, please! (Jokes still enjoyable, despite correction mentioned in Anne’s update.)

  15. Higher order quantification = quantification into predicate position. So higher-order thinking = thinking about properties. The GOP is therefore against thinking about properties, which is why McCain doesn’t know how many he owns.

  16. Look, when read charitably Texas is clearly just endorsing a bifurcated, dual-level picture of epistemology. All they want is for the kids to stay away from meta-epistemic skepticism. That shit will mess you up.

  17. Updates shouldn’t invalidate jokes! Besides, as someone said, they really are saying what they want, even if not quite what they meant to let out.

  18. Jamiedreier,

    This has been overtaken somewhat by subsequent developments, but my point was to suggest that the meaning of the platform’s (earlier?) stance on “critical thinking skills” pedagogy was much better understood in terms of theses like Prof. Zelnick’s about perceived ideological and intellectual mischief wrought under that name, than as a hostility to higher order thinking skills (lower-case, that is) per se. It wasn’t to appraise or endorse the merits of the thesis or of Prof. Zelnick’s particular supporting argument that appeared in that article. But without a doubt the jokes are funnier if we pretend that the Texas GOP (or other HOTS critics) really are opposed to higher order thinking as such.

  19. Nemo:

    I’m sure that all of us, including the Texas Republicans, are in favor of high order thinking skills, as long as those skills lead to the conclusions which we already believe.

    Now high order thinking skills or even good-old everyday common sense thinking skills which lead to non-orthodox or heretic conclusions (whatever the dominant ideology, right or left) are apt to get you into trouble everywhere.

  20. swallerstein,

    Ay, there’s the rub. And that’s not all: we are more inclined to view the thinking that leads us to (or confirms us in) the conclusions we find congenial, as being higher-order or at least commonsensical thinking. And in our faults by lies we flattered be. (Sorry, I’m re-reading Shakespeare this weekend and have him on the brain!)

  21. One has to learn to think against oneself.

    Many many years ago I participated in a debating society and at times we had to defend a posture contrary to our own. That is an excellent exercise in critical thinking.

    Now I’m more dogmatic. I could defend Obama’s point of view and that of Noam Chomsky (who are quite far apart), but I could not defend that of a Texas Republican, except a very Machiavellian one.

    Machiavellian postures are easy to defend, but very infrequent in the real world, even in Texas I imagine. Almost everyone moralizes their beliefs.

    It’s been years since I read Shakespeare. I’m reading Stendhal: a pleasure.

  22. I’m opposed to the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the ‘Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’. I may also be opposed to a program that teaches kids that they should not listen to their parents, as that has been a staple of the Hitler Youth, Red Guard and other Leftist groups indoctrinating youth.

    Let’s not be fooled by the label. Leftists enjoy wrapping their steaming piles of manure in nice-sounding labels so that when you oppose the manure they can claim you oppose the label. That sort of demagoguery may impress the “useful idiots” but those of us paying attention are not falling for it.

    It sure sounds as if the content of this program is something any American would oppose.

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