Orac does his usual great job of addressing the evolution denial, anti-vaccine sentiments, and promotion of alternative medicine in the platform. Unfortunately, promoters of unscientific medicine and opponents of science-based medicine find allies on both sides of the political aisle. On the left they tend to appeal to anti-corporate and new age sentiments. On the right it’s all about freedom – health care freedom, freedom from mandates, and freedom from regulation. The platform specifically opposes regulation of vitamins and supplements, stating: “We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.”
I have written about the health care freedom movement before. Essentially it is an attempt to undermine rational and reasonable measures to establish a minimum standard of care in medicine. You can’t have a standard without some criteria and some method of enforcing the criteria. The current standard is largely science-based, transparent, and fair, but proponents of unscientific methods that fall below the reasonable standard want to abolish it so they will be free to practice witchcraft as medicine. Health care freedom is presented as consumer freedom, but it is really anti-consumer and all about the freedom to sell pseudoscience and bad medicine.
The most troubling passage in the platform, however, is this:
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.
That’s right, the Texas Republican party opposes teaching our children critical thinking skills because that will encourage them to challenge authority. However, this plank in the platform does require some background. The concern here is really that liberals are using public education as a mechanism for instilling liberal values opposed by conservatives, and disguising this agenda as “outcome based education.” For example, here is a 1993 report from Texas Republican Phyllis Schlafly:
When they talk about “higher order thinking skills” or “critical thinking,” they mean a relativistic process of questioning traditional moral values.
This controversy obviously has a long history in Texas. The Schlafly report (What’s Wrong with Outcome Based Education) reflects a culture war being fought in the public school classroom. I think that both political sides have legitimate complaints about public education. OBE is supposed to be about using outcomes to measure the effectiveness of educational methods. However, under the OBE banner lots of experimental and (in my opinion) dubious teaching methods have been tried. One aspect of this the Schlafly report complains about is structuring teaching so that the pace of learning is set by the slowest student in the group, with the quicker learners being kept to the slower pace. This reflects the basic difference in world view between liberals, who tend to be egalitarian, and conservatives, who tend to value individualism and meritocracy.