divergent views on the importance of critical thinking

Regular readers will know that I spend quite a bit of time rioting about critical thinking: what it is, why it’s important, how to develop the relevant skills in our students. In fact, I tell my own students that one of the most important things they’ll gain from their time at uni is the ability to think independently and critically.

So I was rather gobsmacked to read one of Orac’s recent posts, about the (rather scary) proposed election platform of the Texas Republican Party. Quite a bit of the content is surely cause for some concern, & anti-science in so many ways (anti-evolution & anti-vaccine, to name a couple), but this particular bit caught my eye:

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.

From the perspective of science, & science teaching, this is really concerning, on several grounds. For starters, science is predicated on critical thinking: it’s what scientists do. Any proposed action/intent to reduce students’ acquisition of such a key skill-set is not at all desirable. In addition, all good teachers will challenge their students’ "fixed beliefs" from time to time – some very meaningful learning can result from such challenges. (I do wonder if this phrase isn’t specifically aimed at the teaching of evolution, given the fears in some quarters that this will challenges religious belief. The same is true for "undermining parental authority".)

And of course, there’s the flow-one effect – Texas is a major purchaser of science textbooks & decisions there often have a flow-on effect in terms of what’s available in other states. So it would not be students in only a single state that would suffer, if a proposal such as this should ever gain traction.

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