AlterNet's Sara Robinson looks at the conservatives versus critical thinking imbroglio, noting that "[t]he education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives." Here is a summary of conservative educational philosophy:
The main imperative of education is to break the child's will, force him to conform to society's expectations, make him an obedient and compliant employee, and prepare him to survive in a hostile and competitive world... What kids need most from school are hard skills and marketable credentials that will enable them to find a stable place in the hierarchy, thus securing their futures.
Robinson points out the criticism of John Taylor Gatto [in his 1992 book Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling] that "the 'hidden curriculum' of public schools is designed from the ground up to reinforce these deeply authoritarian lessons" [and] "fosters a lifelong dependence on external authority:"
In the conservative model, critical thinking is horrifically dangerous, because it teaches kids to reject the assessment of external authorities in favor of their own judgment -- a habit of mind that invites opposition and rebellion.
Among liberals, the ultimate purpose of both education and parenting is to bring forward the best that lies within us, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the unique potential of each child. [...] Education should, above all, foster self-knowledge and self-discipline, equipping us to make the best possible contributions...and to pursue life, liberty and happiness wherever those pursuits may take us. [...] It's assumed that people who are accustomed to this kind of personal freedom will also fiercely resist authoritarian leaders...
Conservative freedom, tainted by their unadmitted authoritarianism, is like their religion--where one is liberated to choose what they've pre-selected:
It's not exactly accurate -- but nonetheless true -- to say that the reason we call it "liberal education" is that the more of it you have, the more liberal you're likely to be. If we buy into the idea that critical thinking is somehow non-essential, we're not only betraying the entire future of the liberal tradition in America; we're also depriving future generations of the basic skills and knowledge they'll need to defend their democracy from the plutocrats who are always standing in the shadows, determined to wrest it from them.
Once you understand how very different our underlying worldviews are, the things we need to do to preserve our idea of a progressive, empowering education become far more clear.
In addition to the liberal distrust of standardized testing as the primary metric of educational achievement, there is also our recognition that education is more than the 'three Rs"--that "[t]he arts, crafts and humanities matter:"
When we short-change students on the liberal arts curriculum, we are dooming the next generation to be led by people whose perspective, vision, flexibility, insight, and compassion aren't up to the highest standards. If we want our nation to be better, we need to train better minds -- and for thousands of years, a firm grounding in the arts and humanities have been the main way civilizations around the world have always developed this talent.
Robinson concludes, interestingly, by observing that "conservatives are not wrong:"
...for 150 years, the schools have been the leading promoter and disseminator of progressive values. It's precisely because they understand the power of education to preserve democracy that they're now doing their best to dismantle that system, and replace it with one that produces followers, subjects and serfs.
What is education for? We won't even be a contender in this fight until we're committed to our own clear, coherent, values-based answer to that question. How we answer it will shape the country's future.
(For additional thoughts, see my review of Stephen Law's The War for Children's Minds.)