Criminalizing Thinking

by RODOLFO ACUÑA

I am having trouble getting into this essay on the war on critical thinking. I cannot figure out whether it is dumb or ignorant.  My mother would say that the people conducting the war are malditos, mean. The reality is that the criminalization of rational thought goes beyond being dumb, ignorant or just plain mean.

Because the consequences are so calculated and far reaching, it is important to break it down so everyone can understand it and where we are headed.

Fascism did not start on February 27, 1933 with the burning of the Reichstag building in Berlin; it did not begin with the building of concentration camps after the fire. It was all planned and a strategy of division, doubt, and fear simply bore fruit at this point.

Hitler summed up his strategy; he sowed the seeds of “mental confusion, contradiction of feelings, indecision, [and] panic.”

Were the German people dumb, ignorant or just plain malditos?  Some were all of the above.

Hitler and his gang set out to stamp out all vestiges of freedom and decency in German society. It is a story goes back to the early 1920’s and was formed after great forethought.

It used symbols such as the black swastika within the white circle, triggering images of hate toward Jews.  Similarly, the Tea Party movement uses the flag with the circle of stars, the border and the tea kettle to nurture fear and hate.

The process of “mental confusion, contradiction of feelings, indecision, panic” follow a blueprint. You watch Tea Party rallies play to mobs that identify with a distorted sense of nationalism; the speakers playing to the fears of the dumb, ignorant and malditos.

In the United States, the Tea Party has been taken over by corporate interests. The involvement of the Koch brothers is well documented.  Like the Nazis it has integrated friendly media such as Fox News and a network of right-wing radio talk shows that include scores of hate-mongers such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage who are supported by dozens of other radio hosts and guests.

The message is redundant.

In Germany it was the fear of attacks from without – the invasion of aliens from within — who would infect their racial purity and rob them of the bounties of the German Nation. The Tea Party following a similar plan has substituted the word “illegal alien” for Jew.

The excesses are discernible even at this early stage. One can see the parallels with the Tea Party’s alliances with so-called Minutemen who can justify the murder of a nine-year old Mexican girl, Briseña Flores.

These parallels hit me over the head when I read my friend Devon Peña’s blog, one of the more intelligence on the internet.  Devon is one of the few Chicano intellectuals that I know who thinks outside the box.

(See Devon G. Peña,     “Fear & Loathing in Texas: State Republican Party Seeks to Ban Critical Thinking in Public Schools Platform Prohibits Teach Higher Order Thinking Skills,” July 1, 2012)

Peña’s blog follows the Texas State Board of Education and its adoption of high school social studies and history curriculum standards. The Texas body is a collection of extremists who mirror the fanaticism of the gaggle in Phoenix.

In 2010, it attempted to adopt standards which declared war on the truth. It began with the ridiculous rationale that the Constitution did not provide for the separation of church and state. They said that the words were not in the Constitution. Telling they did not bother to read the Federalist Papers.

Conservatives insisted that the U.S. government be referred to as a “constitutional republic,” rather than “democratic.”

The new standards required students to study how global organizations such as the United Nations undermine U.S. sovereignty.

Efforts of the Texas American Civil Liberties Union failed to rein in the State Board of Education and politicized what was taught to Texas school children.

Back to Hitler’s take on education: “Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented.” In Mein Kampf he stated “Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round.”

The Nazi party did not openly purge existing professors if they conformed. It implemented a plan to transform the profession by controlling entry and promotion within it. Teachers could either conform or resign.

The Nazis also moved to block the negative influence of parents and traditional culture. The Party moved to revise history. It saw that the problem that the teaching of history was not guided and taught by Nazi standards – the truth did not matter.

Enter the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform:

“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.”

Peña asks, “Where does this Republican fear of critical thinking come from?” He deduces:   “HB2281, the law banning the teaching of Chicana/o Studies in public schools, or that Texas public schools are now filled with a majority [Latino].” The motivating factor was that Latino students now make up just over 50 percent of Texas schools.

John Huppenthal, the Arizona Superintendent of Schools, appearing on Fox News Latino, said, “this toxic thing [critical thinking] starts from, the universities.” Proponents of HB 2281 see critical thinking as “un-American and a threat to Western civilization and culture….”

This dumb, ignorant, and mean spirited movement is spreading, following the same path as the anti-immigrant movement.

In Tennessee Tea Party groups introduced a proposal to take minorities out of American history textbooks. It also proposed to remove negative portrayals of the wealthy white men and references to them as slaveholders or mention of the Indian genocide.

Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery. But, her saying so does not make it true.

Why has the struggle in Texas then been less intense than in Arizona? There are a lot of factors. It is not that Texas politicos are less dumb, ignorant or malditos, but that with the size of Arizona you can get a lot more bang for your buck. The Kochs, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), and the prison, gun, and charter school interests have hijacked the Republican Party and silenced the Democratic Party and most progressives in the state. In Texas you have a critical mass of Latino elected officials that can put a brake on extreme legislation, although some creeps through.

The perfect storm occurred in Arizona, and the effects are now spreading elsewhere.

What is this straw man called critical thinking?

It is nothing new; it was not invented by Mexican Americans to overthrow the government. It simply is a method of teaching to engage the learner and motivate her to learn and understand concepts. It is nothing new. Most civilizations engaged in it. American law schools which some say are the bastions of conservative thought use the Socratic Method, which is called the case book method. Cases are studied, analyzed and the student seeks to learn the law rather than to repeat it.

Throughout history critical thinking has been a threat to tyrants.

It was used extensively in the early Christian Church where communities studied the early writings of prophets. The Gnostics used this method extensively, and they were purged.

In recent times educational reformers like John Dewey have differentiated between training and education. The object of education was to engage the student in inquiry in a search for the truth.

The criminalization of rational thought is of concern.

On July 4, 2012, The Chicago Tribune reported the experience of a University of Chicago undergraduate volunteer at a Southside school. He posed the question to the class: “Why do we need laws?”

Immediately, nearly all 12 hands shot up. “To make sure people don’t go around being mean,” one student said. Another said: “We need laws because this world is falling apart. It’s going crazy.”

Here the volunteer was acting as a coach, much like on a football team when players engage in the subversive process of critical thinking in critiquing game film.

This article is not into name calling. People are dumb, ignorant and mean, but they are also greedy as the movie “Wall Street” so graphically points out.

Greedy people want power and they don’t strive for it  solely because they are dumb, ignorant or mean. They do it because they are able to manipulate others to follow them against their own self-interests.

I am not saying that we are the same as Nazi Germany in 1933 or 1939; however, there are parallels to its development in 1921.  We have to remember that Hitler came to power because of massive U.S. and German financial and industrial collaboration.

American automaker Henry Ford invested in Hitler’s  rise as did the late US Senator Prescott Bush, Averill Harriman, the Dulles brothers, German steel magnate Fritz Thyssen, and chemical manufacturer I.G. Farben, among a score of others. They helped finance Hitler. Why? Because they were dumb, ignorant and/or mean? No, because they profited.

The drive to make more profits makes critical thinking and the preservation of a historical record a threat.

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Sean Arce and José González Under Attack

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution. 

 

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