Poor, poor Texas

29 Jun

Two days ago, the Huffington Post published an article about the Texas GOP’s 2012 Political Platform. The Huff Post decided to focus on the platform’s stance on sex-ed and corporal punishment (which, by the way, is actually legal in 19 states, Texas included). The literature indicates that teachers should have more authority in disciplining students rather than parents. I can entertain this idea – kids and their families hold so much power that teachers are afraid to even touch a student on the arm. Teachers (who truly are the parents-away-from-home) do need more authority. But resorting to corporal punishment? Ehh. The section titled “Educating our Children” of the literature states “corporal punishment is effective & legal in Texas.” It’s effective? In Texas? According to whom? Here’s the entire section of the party’s position on “Classroom Discipline:”

We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.”

How can the party’s entire position be reduced to two sentences? I’m not about to start whipping my students – I don’t care if it is legal (and it IS legal in Indiana). What exactly does the GOP propose teachers do to handle disciplinary issues? There’s no clear outline here, so the reader is left to his/her own devices. And trust me, I have a pretty creative and vivid imagination. I don’t like what I see.

The platform literature also notes that there should be three tiers for college tuition, which makes sense. But they say that non-US citizens should not be eligible for state or federal grants, or loans. Ouch – they can’t even get loans. But can I ask a silly question real quick? The literature indicates nay, straight up says that the GOP “encourage(s) legislation that prohibits enrollment in free public schools of non-citizens unlawfully present in the United States.” ‘kay. So, how does the GOP expect these non-citizens to go to college (and thus fall into the third tier and pay 100% of the tuition costs)? Someone explain that to me.

BY THE WAY, legislation prohibiting the enrollment of immigrants in public schools is against the law, yo. (Texas is sure off to a stellar start here.)

Ready for more fun? Let’s look at the GOP’s stance on “Controversial Theories” (namely evolution).

“We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”

A little refresher: Texas is huge and has a great deal of pull in terms of textbooks. Because of the amount of textbooks the state purchases, it influences what textbooks are used nationally. Plus, all textbooks require the approval of the State Board of Education. Fun stuff. For years the guidelines of the state required teachers to address “strengths and weaknesses” of various scientific theories. Then in 2009, the board removed this phrase and was met with a huge protest. Eventually the board added “students will examine ‘all sides of scientific evidence'” (Stutz 2009). So basically, the GOP is just supporting the policy that is already in place.

This is just another stumbling block in the battle of Darwin’s controversial Theory of Evolution in public schools. [Sidebar: Why do I feel so strongly about this? I spent two months researching this topic with my peer for one of my master’s classes. We learned everything we could in that short time about the evolution of Darwin’s theory in schools and ultimately looked for ways to respect students’ (and even teachers’) beliefs while teaching this theory. We do not believe that schools should follow Texas’ policy. The wording of this policy has been revised over decades to finally find a way of including other means of life origin (creationism, intelligent design) without actually using those phrases (as they were the subject of many court cases). So this issue hits a little close to home because I spent so much time with it. I can’t (actually, I can, I just don’t want to) believe that so little progress has been made since the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925.]

Finally, la crème de la crème: critical thinking!

The folks at EdWeek.org published their thoughts on the literature yesterday. Along with many others, I surely thought this literature had to be a joke. Since when are we so blatantly opposed to teaching to the evaluation level (of Bloom’s Taxonomy)? I mean, are you serious? The GOP says this:

“We believe that 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 focuses on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

L.O.L. I re-read and re-read and just shake my head. Even though EdWeek’s article was updated with a statement, reported by Talking Points Memo, from a spokesperson of the Texas GOP that basically read the ‘critical thinking skills’ language should not have been included, they regret the mistake, but changes to the document cannot be made until the next state convention in 2014. Ohh brother. All kidding aside, even if we take the ‘critical thinking skills’ language out, the literature STILL opposes Higher Order Thinking – which is essentially critical thinking. Texas, you’re not helping yourself here.

This whole document is absurd. Ridiculous. A joke. A farce.

And US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, apparently told Bloomberg in March that he felt “very, very badly” for the students of Texas. Only I can’t seem to find that particular article. And since when is that something that’s even appropriate to say? Especially as the Secretary of Education of the entire country? Since when does feeling “badly” for someone accomplish anything? I’d love to know what Mr. Duncan plans to DO – not what he FEELS.

Apparently no one messes with Texas because they do a bang-up job of that themselves.

Read the whole platform document here.

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