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Using the Texas Republican Party Platform as a cheat sheet for defending private school education

If you’re a Texas Democrat who sends your kids to private school, I’ve got some great news for you! The Texas Republican delegates met last month in Fort Worth to hammer out the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform, and the finished product is guaranteed to counteract any pangs of Democrat Guilt you may have been experiencing for not sending your kids to your neighborhood public school.

In a state where both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, the ideals set forth in this platform are not just the crazy rantings of a fringe party: They are the crazy rantings of the party in power. In the “Educating our Children” section of this platform, the Republican delegates have provided an easy-to-follow lesson plan for defending your preference for private schools to even your bossiest Democrat friends! 

For starters, the platform states that the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) opposes teaching multiculturalism because “a multicultural curriculum is divisive” and instead wants to strengthen “our common American identity and loyalty.” It appears that even the dictionary the Republican delegates use is different than the one at my house; because in my dictionary teaching multiculturalism would be an example of something inclusive, not divisive.

But since we now know there’s no better way to say, “We’re all in this together,” than by saying nothing at all, beginning with the next academic year all public school performances of High School Musical will be one song shorter. Don’t thank me — thank the RPT.      

Additionally, the platform calls for teachers to have “more authority to deal with disciplinary problems” and states that “corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.” Although I’m a big believer in discipline, I’ve never thought spanking was an effective form of it. But if I did believe in spanking, I can’t imagine I’d be okay with outsourcing that to my neighborhood public school.

This next point is where the reasoning gets really convoluted, so pay close attention: The RPT opposes so-called “controversial theories” such as “life origins” and “environmental change,” and believes these should be taught as “challengeable scientific theories.”  But it favors controversial unscientific theories like “abstinence until marriage” sex education, which has been proven to be ineffective.  Confused? Well, you’re probably suffering from an acute case of HOTS.   

And no, HOTS isn’t some tawdry acronym for an STD you’re sure to catch after sitting through a class of facts and science-based sex education. HOTS is a tawdry acronym for “Higher Order Thinking Skills,” also known as critical thinking. According to the platform, the RPT believes that these skills “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” 

After being lambasted for this plank of the platform, RPT Communications Director Chris Elam said that the words "critical thinking skills" were included by mistake, The RPT stands by the rest of the plank, however, including the Higher Order Thinking Skills reference that is used as tomato/tomahto synonym for critical thinking skills. But mistake or not, because the term was included in the platform that was approved at the party convention, the RPT is stuck with it until the next state convention in 2014.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that elsewhere in the platform it states that "every Republican is responsible for implementing this platform." Unfortunately for Texas public school children, there is no "common sense" exception excusing Republicans from implementing planks that they later realize are bone-headed — probably because that would require some Higher Order Thinking Skills. 

It's a good thing I don't believe in corporal punishment because if I did, a mistake of this magnitude — one that stands to impair the education of students across the State of Texas — would be exactly the type of thing that would make me want to send someone straight to the principal's office for a serious thrashing.

Meanwhile in the world of actual facts and real research, a recent study tracked thousands of students through college and found that a significant percentage of them graduated without the necessary critical thinking skills (or HOTS) to discern fact from opinion or to resist emotional appeals and political spin. Most people viewed this as evidence that our educational system is failing our students and as such cause for alarm. But to the RPT, this study seems to spell “Mission Accomplished.”

I’ve been a parent with kids in school for over twenty-five years now. My kids have attended both religious and non-religious private schools. And over the years I’ve had disagreements and debates with my kids’ schools over a whole host of issues including homework, testing, religion, politics, patriotism, nutrition and many more. 

But never have I had to debate whether critical thinking skills and hard science should be part of a school’s curriculum. When it comes to developing critical thinking skills, the question has always been whether the students are getting enough, not whether they are getting too much. Now the RPT wants to set the bar even lower by simply dropping it on the floor and walking away. 

The RPT states in the platform that its opposition to teaching critical thinking skills in school is that doing so undermines a kid’s fixed beliefs and the authority of that kid’s parents. But I’m a parent who opposes spanking and values multiculturalism, hard science and critical thinking skills. So, doesn’t an educational experience that ignores or neglects these things challenge my kid’s fixed beliefs and undermine my parental authority?  

It seems like the RPT only has a problem with challenging Republican-sanctioned fixed beliefs, and it’s only the Republican parents’ authority that they’re worried about undermining. I may not have been educated in Texas Republican-led public schools, but I can spot a contradiction when I see one. Come to think of it, since spotting contradictions requires critical thinking skills, that might be exactly why I can spot one.  

There is some poetic justice in all of these contradictions. To many diehard Dems, any Democrat that would send her kids to private school is herself a walking contradiction, because doing so is tantamount to refusing to do one’s part to support the public education system — a core Democratic value.  

Because I am a diehard Dem, I get called out on this so-called contradiction all the time — and I expected that I would have to defend my decision for seven more years, all the way up until my youngest child graduates from high school. 

“How can you just bail on public schools?” the question always goes.

“I’m not bailing on public schools,” I respond trying not to get defensive. “It’s not like I support vouchers or anything, God forbid,” I add, wanting to make it perfectly clear from the get-go that I am not some sort of selfish monster.  “I pay my property taxes like everybody else. When you get right down to it, I actually support public schools more than you do. I pay taxes and I send my kid to private school. So, it’s like I’m funding a scholarship at my local public school because I’m not even using what I pay for.”

This answer never ends the debate. Invariably, these friends want me to explain why I don’t send my kid to public school. As you might imagine, I have a great answer ready for that question, too. “I have different beliefs when it comes to educational philosophy. And I’m lucky to live in a city where there are lots of great choices when it comes to schools,” I explain.

But even this is not enough to get some of my most persistent friends to drop the matter. “But if you sent your kid to your neighborhood public school you could help make that school better by volunteering and sharing your ideas with them.” 

God, I love my Democrat friends. They’re both stubborn and outspoken. Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to the mirror.

No amount of explaining seems to satisfy them. They don’t care that I send my kids to Montessori school up to and even through middle school, and that the Montessori philosophy couldn’t be more different than the traditional philosophy of education. 

Because they themselves are pushy, they don’t recognize that it would be both presumptive and futile for me to attempt to impose my own views on education — views that are clearly in the minority — on everyone else. No. In their eyes I am selfishly refusing to do my part as a rabble-rousing Democrat who never met a fight too hopeless to take on.  

Thanks to the 2012 Republican party platform, I now have the ultimate hall pass. Any contradiction — real or imagined — that my Dem friends may see in me pales in comparison to the actual ones spelled out in this document. And as a result my seven-year sentence of having to explain myself has been commuted to time served.

Unlike the RPT on the right and my die hard fellow Democrats on the left, I believe my duty as a parent transcends party politics. As a result, I could never sacrifice my kid’s education for a cause. And after surveying the options, I have concluded that now more than ever before, private school is the best fit for my family. Other parents may come to other conclusions and I respect that. But I expect similar deference in return.  

After all, anything less would be completely contradictory.

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