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Information Literacy - Starting our Search

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday break in these trying times.

Getting back to an introduction to Information Literacy, remember that background knowledge is a key critical-thinking skill since such knowledge can help us – among other things – determine whether the premises of an arguments we are making or analyzing are any good.

Returning to the story we are analyzing about the Republican Party of Texas allegedly trying to ban the teaching of critical thinking in the classroom, remember that the first step we took was to turn our inquiry into a question that the Information Literacy process is meant to answer. And the question we are trying to answer is “Did the Texas Republican party attempt to ban the teaching of critical thinking in the public schools?”

Armed with this question, we can now step up to the keyboard and perform a Google search based on the most obvious key words associated with this subject: Texas Republicans Critical Thinking.

This search brings up a tidy 4.8 million results from the Open Web and there must be something in these close to five million web documents we can make use of, right? Probably, but enough to achieve sufficiency (that is enough information that passes our various quality tests to ensure our question gets answered)? Let’s see.

To begin with, if you look over the first several pages of links that come up in this search, you can immediately see that Google has ranked sources with high authority (such as well-known newspapers and magazines) and strong opinions. And, for the most part, these come from harsh critics of the Texas GOP, which means we should be on the lookout for the bias I mentioned last time.

“Texas GOP Rejects Critical Thinking – Really” announces the Washington Post, “No More Critical Thinking in Schools!” pronounces a blog on Education Week. “The Terrifying Republican Platform” denounces Forbes magazine. (I’ll skip over what Stephen Colbert and other political comics had to say on the matter since those are clearly subject to the bias of wanting to entertain an audience by mocking the powerful.)

The first page also includes links to some stories where the Chair of the Texas GOP explains this controversial measure, and a couple of stories which characterize this decision as an “accident.”

Rather than beginning by reading condemnations or defenses, it might be better to find out what this decision actually consisted of. And so I’ve chosen a link to the Austin Chronicle, a newspaper that probably gives more coverage to Texas party politics than does Education Week, Forbes or The Colbert Report. And while this story also criticizes the party for its decision, it does so while spelling out what the Texas Republicans actually did.

As it turns out, the GOP did not propose legislation to ban critical thinking (or take any other sort of legislative action targeting critical thinking or any other subject), but rather included a plank in its party platform regarding the matter.

Since that party maintains its own site on the Open Web, my next search is for the actual text of the 2012 Texas Republican platform (which, interestingly enough, doesn’t appear until page 2 of a Google search for those words – behind a host of many of the same critiques I found in my first search). One quick Find command later, I’ve located the information I was looking for, a paragraph amidst a host of others relating to education which reads:

"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."

OK – So now we’ve got something to work with. For one thing, we’re dealing with a plank in a party platform. If you have some background knowledge on how party platforms are created, you know that platform-creation has devolved in recent decades to the place where partisans charged up about a particular issue often include extreme language that is later ignored or criticized by mainstream party members (which may be why platform fights were taken behind closed doors during this year’s conventions).

That platform plank includes another clue that might help us in our quest for understanding, a reference to a method of teaching called Outcome-Based Education or OBE that seems to be what the Texas Republicans are condemning, with critical-thinking possibly getting caught up in the wake.

So what is OBE? Next time, we’ll use our Information Literacy skills to find out.


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