Advanced propaganda vs. the critical thinking imperative

Advanced propaganda vs. the critical thinking imperative

As one who has sworn both an Oath of Enlistment and an Oath of Commissioning, let me say this about the USA and Oklahoma:  My Country and my State, right or wrong.  May they always be right.  When they are wrong, may they be put right!

Another week has passed in our illustrious state’s First Session of the 55th Legislature and yet again Oklahoma has made national news for all the wrong reasons.  House Bill 1380 introduced by a Baptist pastor representing House District 60 (Yukon) caused quite the upset in the education community as well as the general public.  As it was worded, the bill was thought to call for the removal of Advanced Placement History curriculum in Oklahoma high schools, or at least that is how it was received.  As it turned out the bill’s author, Dan Fisher, insists it was not his intent to ban AP History courses but to make them more inclusive of items revered by those who share his conservative values.  It seems that Pastor Fisher takes exception to his perceived dearth of American exceptionalism and overall Yankee goodness in the subject curriculum.  Looking over the text of the bill as it was introduced, the list of items to be included contains very many good and useful readings and class discussion topics.  Speaking for myself, I would not have a problem with the items included as much as I would items conveniently omitted.  There is absolutely no mention of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Green Corn Rebellion, Prohibition (discussion of the 18th Amendment notwithstanding), the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Korea, Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, and several other significant though less-than-flattering aspects of authentic Americana.  Also, if so many of Reagan’s speeches are to be included then history concurrent with them should be fair game such as his economic policy and its effect on the national debt, Iran-Contra, and the AIDS epidemic to name a few.  Due to the firestorm of controversy over the way it was perceived as worded, Fisher sent it back to his staff for a rewrite.  According to him, “It was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous, and we didn’t realize that, so it’s been misinterpreted. We’re going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s not to hurt AP. We’re very supportive of the AP program.”   The Republican House Floor leader has said the rewritten bill will not call for the elimination of AP History but will only call for the state Board of Education to carry out a review.

I had a few conversations with people close to this issue this past week and as it turns out this Advanced Placement History course, for which students can receive college credit, is less about teaching actual history and more about teaching critical thinking.  This is really how it should be.  Students should never be taught what to think.  They should be taught how to think.  I recall from my high school curriculum that the most useful courses, one a speech class, the other an English semantics class, taught reasoning skills, basic logic and how to identify fallacies in reasoning.  That said, any curriculum that would selectively omit less than shining examples of American ideology would be doing an egregious disservice to any student subject to it.  Presenting the facts as recorded and allowing the students to draw their own conclusions certainly sounds like a goal worthy of state funding.  Presenting a full picture of the true character of the American Nation would be more beneficial.  Those who learn the truth about the nation of their birth and/or residence would be less likely to have huge gaps in their education.  Imagine something like this being exposed publicly and at inopportune moments, for example Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s public assertion that “The Founding Fathers worked tirelessly until slavery was no more,” but I digress.

I agree that the winners of wars are the writers of history.  However, when legislators with a clearly delineated social agenda like Pastor Fisher and some of his bill’s co-authors such as Rep. Sally Kern seek to inject public school curriculum with material that supports their agenda and selectively omits things which do not, it becomes increasingly more difficult to extend to them the benefit of the doubt.  This is where charges of whitewashing and outright propagandizing the history curriculum arise from and stand on merit.

I shudder to think where we may be headed.  George Orwell penned it well in his book, 1984.  There is a term he described that, if some of these rightwing agenda people have their way, fits their public education policy perfectly.  The Orwellian term is known as Crimestop.  Specifically, “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

Do we really want to ensconce our youth in a sense of protective stupidity or glorious ignorance, regardless of preferred ideology?

Or worse.  The late George Carlin saw this years before the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision.  It appears with each passing day what he saw and described then is true now.  George, oh how we miss thee!

George Carlin:  “Who Really Controls America”

2014Bookshelf

5 Comments

  1. Route66Kid
    Feb 27, 2015

    So where are we going to draw the line? Here is what is happening in Kansas:

    http://www.forwardprogressives.com/kansas-gop-senator-mary-pilcher-cook-wants-criminalize-harmful-books/

  2. Tony O'seland
    Feb 22, 2015

    Coming from the education side of the argument, my perspective may be a tad skewed on the topic of AP courses. Let me attempt to explain.

    The teaching theory that goes with AP is one that gives the general guideline of “Harder study, harder work.” We instructors expect significantly more from AP students and facilitate every way possible to make the class a challenge, but one that brings out the best in a student, not create a nest of near mediocrity.

    Having taught university level composition the past decade, I m usually thrilled to have AP students in my class. I know I don’t have to do any remedial work with them, and they can be easily approached for helping moderate group work in the classroom. Occasionally one slips through that possibly should have gone to Tech School instead of college, but you work with them.

    AP is a decision to dedicate oneself to a single lens of thought (the class) and the concept that there are no bad concepts, just ones who need reworked.

    Not that too many years ago you could take a roll call of members of the Oklahoma legislature and see that few of the movers and shakers had their own children in public education. Overheard at a conference once, a state representative said that his kids went to private schools because he wanted to be certain they got a good education. Make from that what you will.

    There are few educators at the state level who are involved in education. There are a few consultant folk who hold a PhD, but at last check, there were under a handfull. How does any committee create legislation on a topic it has no practical knowledge of? Personally, I would not expect to find a janitor on a state level committee concerning particular surgical procedures, but that’s just me.

    As an educator, I would swing my finger, pointing it strongly, cry Je’cuse!” at the majority of parents of students in Oklahoma. Bloody few parents are actively involved in the education of their students. They will cry foul, denounce my statement, but if they sat down to do the homework with their student, all electronics off, no phone, maybe soft background music (go with Mozart…look it up), and actively, physicilly be involved there wouldn’t need to be this argument about AP classes. It would be taken care of already.

    If our beloved Oklahama wishes to bring itself into the early 21st century, it must have an educated, literate population lest it be damned into slipping into an earlier time and calling it reality.

  3. Carl Alexander
    Feb 21, 2015

    And don’t forger what Orwell said about Doublethink: “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.” Which leads me to ask – how can one TEACH this:? “Students should never be taught what to think. They should be taught how to think.” How to think? How do you teach someone HOW to think, without instilling one’s one’s values and belief system? Seems to me the correct way to teach anyone is to give them hard facts, to digest on their own, as they will (or not). Anything else is just pushing ideology, or one ilk or another.

  4. Route66Kid
    Feb 21, 2015

    Tom,
    Not only did Bachmann say it, she doubled down on it:
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/57907.html

  5. Tom Upshaw
    Feb 21, 2015

    Thanks for further clarifying the details around this legislation, Stan. I also noticed the strong emphasis at the beginning of the curriculum guide PDF on critical thinking, and learning history in *context*, something that would have made my own history classes MUCH more interesting and memorable. “The Founding Fathers worked tirelessly until slavery was no more…” Did Bachman really say that? How surreal. That is precisely the opposite of what they did, when they punted the issue for a generation, tacitly agreeing to avoid bringing it up at all in Congress for decades. Hence Lincoln had to deal with it finally. I had not remembered your quote from Orwell, but how appropriate to so much of the right-wing media propaganda today. Will have to put 1984 back on my re-reading list, after these several decades.