Why do so many conservatives and creationists insist that they want more “critical thinking” in public schools? In a recent commentary in Education Week, I argue that this trend is part of a longer tradition of anti-authoritarian education.
In the pages of EdWeek, I examine some of the new laws that have rightly been called “anti-evolution” efforts. They usually are that. They hope to introduce wiggle room in public-school science classes for creationist students and anti-evolution teaching. A Virginia bill that recently died a lonely death in committee, for instance, would have insisted that students “develop critical-thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.”
I think, however, that the conservative impulse to encourage critical thinking among students goes even deeper than the evolution issue. As I argue in the EdWeek commentary, several other legislative efforts in recent years have allowed students to opt out of school assignments that seem ideologically outrageous to students and parents.
Are these opt-out efforts “progressive?” After all, they embody the anti-authoritarian ethos at the heart of progressive education. But they do so for demonstrably conservative purposes. Has the ideology of school dissent come full circle?