Texas GOP chair explains controversial "critical thinking" platform language


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on July 24, 2012 at 6:26 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 24 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- From blog posts to Web articles, even Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert has blasted a line in the 2012 Texas Republican 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.

"For too long we have blindly accepted the idea of not blindly accepting ideas," Colbert boomed in a recent segment of "The Word," taking satirical aim at the plank approved as part of the party platform at the 2012 Texas GOP Convention in June.

"We have gotten, I would say, dozens of emails," Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri told KVUE Tuesday. "A lot of them were from around the country from articles that were written from people that said, 'The state Republican Party of Texas doesn't want kids to think,' and nothing could be further from the truth."

To set the record straight, KVUE met with Munisteri at the state party headquarters in downtown Austin.

"The platform plank is against a specific type of teaching called 'outcome-based education,'" explained Munisteri. "The reason why critical thinking is mentioned is some places try to disguise the program of outcome-based education and just re-label it as 'critical thinking.'"

"The fear is that if you choose an outcome, which is a set of values or goals, and that the correct answer always has to be these, that what that could foster is an educational system that's basically redefining values for children different than maybe what their parents or their community teaches them," said Munisteri. "A better to do things is to say, 'Here are the facts on different issues, you make your own conclusions.'"

Some fear "outcome-based education" could be used by instructors to steer students towards a specific view of subjects from economic policy to social issues.

"An argument could be made that 'outcome-based education' actually causes children to think less," Munisteri said. "Because what it does is give them the goals and the conclusions first and teaches those, as opposed to traditional methods where you give kids the facts and information so they make their own conclusions."

"It strikes me as very odd that the party which touts itself as 'the business party' would be against educating a workforce that has the ability to critically analyze data, processes what they're doing, has the ability to creatively attack a problem for their employer," said Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

"A fundamental role of education is helping you to expand your world, the ability to acquire, assimilate and use knowledge," said Exter. "Texas educators are absolutely not out there to challenge the beliefs of kids as far as what their parents have taught them. Texas educators want to work with parents and work with communities, not against them."

Munisteri concedes it was a bad choice of words, suggesting the oversight may have occurred because of the emphasis placed this year on major changes to policy such as the state party's guest worker plank targeting illegal immigrants.

Since the platform can only be changed by a state convention, the party is stuck with it for now. Munisteri says the verbiage will be addressed when the platform committee reconvenes in 2013.

"It's a good lesson that maybe we should do a little better job of communicating," concluded Munisteri.