Friday, June 29, 2012

Don't Mess With Texas: Challenge It!

The democratic process would be a lot healthier if, before marking the ballot or pulling the lever or whatever it is people do when they vote in their particular regions, the voters read through the party platforms so that their votes could be informed ones. It's all too easy for media coverage to give you one impression of what a party wants to do, only to find that their platform documentation suggests something entirely different - take, for example, the Ontario Libertarian Party, which included in its platform documentation its committment to disassemble Ontario's medical licensing system.

Depending on what corners of the media you poke your nose into, you may have been hearing things about the 2012 platform for the Republican Party of Texas - and even though I don't expect to ever be in a situation where I would have the option for voting for the Republican Party in any form, I read the platform anyway. A lot of it is ordinary stuff of the sort that I've come to expect from the Republicans: the repeal of minimum wage, the abolition of the US Department of Education, the immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act, "which we believe to be unconstitutional" and which they will likely continue to believe despite yesterday's ruling, and so on. The usual sort of stuff you hear from the Natural Governing Party of the red states.

Like any document put together by a committee, there are certainly contraditions. According to the platform, the Texas GOP supports "equal suffrage for all U.S. Citizens of voting age who are not felons," and yet the very next bullet sets out their desire for the Voter Rights Act - the legislation that outlawed discriminary voting requirements of the sort that were commonly used to disenfranchise blacks - "be repealed and not reauthorized." It likewise comes out against state lotteries, recognizing "that it is now known to be a regressive tax on the poor," and yet the first two bullets on the very next page lay out its goal to get rid of property taxes by "shifting the tax burden to a consumption-based tax." Considering the sort of things a lot of people in Texas consume because they're necessities of life, like food and gasoline, that sounds like it could very easily be regressive to me!

Let's be honest, though, there's nothing unusual about this - in this day and age, plenty of right-wing parties build their bases on this kind of rhetoric. That's why one of the points buried in the "Educating Our Children" section is chilling... even more so than how they "unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child," because who gives a shit about child trafficking and child soldiers and child pornography, anyway? Any preamble I could give would only detract, so here it is, straight from page 12 of the 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.

I don't even know where to start.

I need a distraction. Hey, look up there, it's a photograph of a dirty elephant!

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that education is the single most important factor facing us today, the single most effective tool humanity has ever created to better its lot. It was education that took us from the savanna to the stars; education that allowed new generations of engineers and scientists, thinkers and doers to build upon the foundations that had already been dug. Education is the key to a dynamic people, an informed people, a healthy people. Without education, you are no better off than a medieval shepherd with dung on your boots - you are totally at the mercy of the world system, a system that grows more complex by the day, without any opportunity to understand or influence it. Education is, quite literally, the key to freedom - people like Frederick Douglass learned, and taught, that lesson well.

Yet here we have the Texas Republican Party seeking to eviscerate the entire concept of education; not just to overlook, but actively avoid giving people what they need to fill their skeptical toolchests, to refuse to give them the skills necessary to look at the world critically. The GOP says it itself - they do not want children or parents to be challenged. To believe that what you know is the be-all and end-all, that there is no possibility of improvement or revision, that it is immune to any sort of challenge... that is the utter, absolute height of arrogance.

Perversely enough, though, I can understand why a political organization would want to push through changes like these. A person who has been taught critical thinking, who looks at the world with a skeptical eye, knows better than to take things at face value. By contrast, someone who's never been taught to chew on difficult questions and answers will swallow anything. It's easy for politicians to tell big lies when the people they're lying to were never instructed in how to sniff out those lies in the first place.

In the end, it's all about fear and control to ensure political power. Who cares about what happens down the line? Who cares that Texas is such a large education market that it effectively sets the standard for textbooks used throughout the United States? For people such as this, power is self-evidently its own reward, and damn the consequences.

Incidentally, seventh on the Texas GOP's list of principles is "Having an educated population, with parents having the freedom of choice for the education of their children." Just one more contradiction that wilts under the harsh light of skepticism.

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