Information Literacy - Synthesis

In previous parts of this series, I introduced the concept of Information Literacy and posed a question that could be answered through research informed by Information Literacy principles. That question had to do with whether or not the Republican Party of Texas tried to ban the teaching of critical thinking in Texas schools (a story that made news in 2012 when I first researched this topic in Critical Voter).

In a second installment, I used those principles to locate and evaluate information that helped me determine that the debate was not over legislation to ban the teaching of critical thinking, but rather over a plank that was included in the state party’s platform that year. I then determined that the debate was not about critical thinking per se but was rather about another theory called Outcome-Based Education or OBE which I explored in a further round of detailed location and evaluation of information in this piece.

Now that we know a little bit more of what we’re talking about, one more round of location and evaluation can help us get to the point where we can answer our original question.

The sources I returned to were some of the same ones I discovered originally, such as stories in local newspapers covering the Texas party convention at the time or documents containing quotes from actual Texas Republicans expressing concern about the critical-thinking/OBE-related platform plank.

If I wanted to, I could have reached out to one of the journalists who covered the convention or either the head of the Texas GOP or a party spokesperson for more first-hand detail since newspapers and the Texas GOP site have Contact Us links I could use to connect to sources closest to the ground. But even with just the second-hand sources I used to get this far, I was able to achieve sufficiency with regard to having enough information to answer the original question.

If you recall, that original question was “Did the Texas Republican party attempt to ban the teaching of critical thinking in the public schools?” the answer to which is: No, they included a plank in their platform criticizing the use of other teaching methods (either Higher Order Thinking Skills or Outcome Based Education) which they claim do not actually teach critical thinking, but instead use critical thinking as a cover for their own nefarious agenda of behavior modification.

But, as our research showed, this equating of OBE, HOTS, Mastery Learning, critical thinking and the like, reflects confused thinking on important educational topics. And the fact that Texas leaders were willing to give, at-best, muddled thinkers the chance to shape their party platform on the subject reflects both a lack of concern for understanding before acting, as well as a tin ear for how this story would play out in the media. In other words, even if their goal was to highlight the alleged evils of Outcome Based Education, the choice of wording for their platform plank made it all but inevitable that they would be denounced as Neanderthals looking to banish the ability to think critically from the brains of Texas students.

Now for partisans who have either an anti-Republican or pro critical-thinking-education bias, notice that this analysis actually still leaves plenty of room to criticize the Texas Republican Party and their platform. I’ll admit that it doesn’t support some of the more caustic and self-flattering statements I read that characterize those behind this decision as boobs, bumpkins and dimwits (as opposed to we sophisticates who appreciate the importance of critical thinking – even if we too are unfamiliar with debates over Outcome Based Education and other reform efforts).

Notice that this more appropriate criticism (that it was left to people who didn’t understand what they were talking about to craft sloppy language that would be identified with the party as a whole) could have come from people who agree with the sentiment the GOP platform group was trying to convey who were probably appalled that their issue has been made a laughingstock through the inappropriate use of the phrase “critical thinking.”

As we finish with this topic, take a look at how all the principles of Information Literacy helped us achieve understanding. I located information, not just on the Open Web, but in library databases, with a focus on sources closest to the ground (who I had the option of contacting directly for more information if I needed to). And when evaluating these sources, I selected scholarly ones to give me better sourced (and, hopefully, more impartial) information on some subjects, and partisan ones to help me better understand the issues being debated. This information was then organized well enough to synthesize into a work product (this LogicCheck series) which – if you’ve read up to this point – has just been successfully communicated to you.

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