Rev Irene Monroe

Why Johnny can't think critically

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | September 09, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: conservatism, education policy, Glenn Beck, Harvard University, indoctrination, rightwing, schools

School is now back in session, and our children's minds public-schools.jpgare impressionable vessels. We trust their teachers to take precious care of them.

But can we?

We have learned over the years "Why Johnny can't read," "Why Johnny can't write," and "Why Johnny can't count."

Now with far-right activists -- with a Glenn Beck tilt pushing for more Jesus and less Darwin -- working to reshape the academic landscape in schools, colleges, and universities across the country we will soon know without having to wonder "Why Johnny can't think critically."

When the Texas Board of Education last March approved changes to its school curriculum to emphasize the superiority of American capitalism, creationism over evolution, and Republican political philosophies, some of us may have laughed it off as typical and tendentious of Texas.

But when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, two months later in May signed a bill to become effective Dec. 31, eliminating ethnic studies in Arizona schools to specifically target Latinos in the state, I realized our American classrooms can gradually become a political laboratory of the Tea Party movement's indoctrination rather than a free marketplace of diverse ideas for critical thinking.

"The epistemological nadir of any university is found in the wacky world of ethnic and gender studies: black studies, Africana studies, Chicano studies, Latino studies, Puerto Rican studies, Middle Eastern studies, Native American studies, women's studies, gay and lesbian studies, et al.," wrote columnist Mark Goldblatt in the Feb. 9, 2005 online edition of the conservative magazine National Review.

"The suggestion that 'studying' is involved in any of these subjects is laughable. They are quasi-religious advocacy groups whose curricula run the gamut from historical wish fulfillment (the ancient Egyptians were black; the U.S. Constitution was derived from the Iroquois Nation) to political axe grinding (the Israelis are committing genocide against the Palestinians; the U.S. is committing genocide against the people of Cuba)."

The "Glenn Beck scholars" blame the current crisis in education on the erosion of the so-called "traditional American education" in favor of giving unmerited advantage to underrepresented minority groups. But the resistance to shift from the millennia-long exhortation of the opuses of dead white heterosexual men to a multicultural perspective including the scholarship of women, gays and lesbians, and people of color is viewed by many as a "dumbing-down" effect of America's educational curriculum.

The movement to reshape the academic landscape of our schools, colleges, and universities from a democratizing force in our society where all ideas and voices are welcome into a tool of conservative indoctrination can be traced back to the 1951 publication of William F. Buckley's book God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom. Buckley, once a leading voice in the American conservative movement, decried his alma mater for spreading "socialist" ideas by attacking students' religious beliefs through their teaching.

The success of conservative and Tea Party academic agendas winning over the impressionable minds of America's students simply boils down to funding (Conservative and Tea Party activists spend more and have more money than liberals to promulgate their causes) and activism on college campuses.

"The campus is an arena for ideological struggle. The crucial prize is the mind of the student. Right-wing conservatives have set out, with enormous funds at their command, to capture the thinking of students, to imbue them with certain ideas: the glories of capitalist "free market" the justness of the nation's wars, the genius of the American political system, pride in the nation as "superpower" bringing democracy and liberty to other places in the world," Howard Zinn stated at the 2006 Speak Out and the Oakland Institute forum "Turning the Tide: Challenging the Right on Campus," which called for building a broad-based and sustainable movement for progressive values on college campuses.

The Right has built a nationwide network with a highly organized infrastructure, an extensive network of campus affiliates, and over a dozen conservative student-focus think tanks, spending over $40 million annually. And the Right has worked hard to eliminate student fees funding campus progressive groups.

For example, already successful on some campuses is the defunding of gay organizations. Student fees, they argue, should not be used to support groups with which some students ideologically and religiously disagree with.

Activists on scattered campuses nationwide have a unified communication strategy funded and crafted by the right-wing Collegiate Network, which operates or supports more than 80 student publications. Its antigay and people of color rhetoric reaches over 2.5 million students a year.

Right-wing foundations have strategically leveraged their resources to engineer the rise of a right-wing intelligentsia that can wield enormous influence in national policy debates in their favor. For example, Harvard University received more than $6.2 million from the Olin Foundation between 1993 and 1997 to set up various conservative law, business, and economics and strategic studies programs.

For conservatives and Tea Party activists, the buck doesn't stop at the classroom level or on college campuses, but rather, their dollars are also spent on producing future generations of neoconservative and right-wing journalists, government employees, and legislators.

A mind is a terribly thing to waste. But for conservatives and Tea Party activists who want to indoctrinate our kids rather than to educate them, a mind is a terrible thing to have.

The job of educators is to develop a safe environment, as well as a multicultural curriculum that includes the history, culture, and experiences of all people.

And in so doing, we make our children better doctors, better lawyers, better teachers, better neighbors, and better human beings. We also make greater people for ourselves, a greater nation for our country, and finer world to live in.

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Many amazing points. Bravo!

I found some of my favortie professors made me question even my most basic beleifs. Many of these people you are writing about don't seem to want any challenge to their belifs because their belifs might be proven wrong. But our children can not grow if we protect them from knowledge that might be disagreeable.

Sad to say but public education hasn't been about teaching critical thinking for a while now (if ever). Children are being trained to read enough to follow directions, sit still for long periods of time, & follow orders. (And are routinely drugged if they can't fit this mold.) Critical thinkers want explanations; rhey ask "Why?" They have no place in the corporate cube wasteland that makes up much of employment in this country. Kids in the US are losing out on many benefits that participating in a free exchange of ideas would give them. Until we decide to make a system that fits people & not the other way 'round, this is the crap we have to deal with.

Great movie coming later this month:

It might help persuade people to focus on the terrible education system in America.

This is a good post, and I do agree that kids need to learn more critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, few schools are about preparing kids to think critically and they're more and more about training them to be either good fast food workers or docile unemployed people. The goal isn't to give these kids too much to shoot for.

Your article is interesting, however, it's unbalanced. Why no mention of the left's funding in education? Is there none? Also, I would venture to say that in the absence of religion, children can learn how to think. With religious brainwashing, it's nearly impossible. That's why 75% of the population lives lives of desperation, they can't think because their minds are a mush of mysticism, mythology and Glenn Blech.

If it's not on the standardized test, it doesn't get taught. Welcome to education in America.

That's not education, that's rote memorization. Now, rote memorization has its place in education, but by itself, it is not education. We should be ashamed to even call it "education."

seen it all repeat and repeat | September 10, 2010 9:53 AM

Paulo Freire is spinning in his grave. Also see Ivan Illich Deschooling.

As a former teacher, I'm with you. Our education system is slipping into a worse and worse abyss every day. NCLB was one of the single worst pieces of legislation ever passed in the United States, and may have doomed us to having a generation of completely undereducated children unless we reform immediately.

Thank you so much for this... I find myself despairing over how Texas zealots contribute to the ruination of public education; add that to the number of folks of similar persuasions who opt out of public education via charter schools, and cap it with a dose of appalling legislation like NCLB, and it's not hard to be left wondering if deliberately ruining public education for all children was the actual objective all along.

I think the Teachers unions are in a lot of trouble. America is trying to figure out who to "blame." That's not good for teachers. Not good at all.

Before bashing religion and standardized tests, I would suggest that one examine dogma and group-think as the true culprits here, not any specific brand of fanaticism. Raised by grandparents who were adolescents during the Great Depression, I had teachers in the 70s who ranged from WW II vets to Vietnam War draft dodgers; and there was plenty of BS and good teaching attributable to every sub-population of teachers. What made the difference was whether they had ever exercised their own gray matter based on the education (how to analyze and evaluate information) and training (how to perform tasks) they had received. The outstanding teachers were eventually siphoned off by magnet school programs or retired, while the mediocre soldiered on or became administrators. Perhaps that's why I was so miserable for the two years after undergrad when I taught alongside some of my former teachers in my high school alma mater.