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How the Conservative Worldview Quashes Critical Thinking -- and What That Means For Our Kids' Future

The education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives.

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Discipline is not about control or retribution. It's about encouraging students to make better decisions, exercise some foresight, take responsibility, and recognize the effects their actions have on the larger group. If a disciplinary intervention doesn't meet those goals, then it's not effective, and shouldn't be used.

Vocational ed is not for losers. Our country is a far better place when it's well-stocked with tradespeople, factory workers, technicians, small business owners, and service providers who have mastered their fields, and take pride in their work. These people are the foundation of our economy, and the real wealth and job creators. When we short-change their training, we're undermining our own future competitiveness -- and cutting the knees out from under the next generation of the American middle class.

And finally: critical thinking is the birthright of every American. We should not aspire to become a feudal society where only the elites are taught to think independently, evaluate evidence, weigh complex factors, and make informed decisions. But it will become one -- in just a generation or two -- if we stop making this the foundational competence delivered by our educational system. A democracy in which a majority of people are no longer capable of basic critical thinking skills cannot remain a democracy very long.

Our educational system is a product of our deepest values. And the battles we're having now are, very directly, battles over what we believe is possible in America, and what kind of country we want to be 20 years from now. The conservatives are not wrong: for 150 years, the schools have been the leading promoter and disseminator of progressive values. It's precisely because they understand the power of education to preserve democracy that they're now doing their best to dismantle that system, and replace it with one that produces followers, subjects and serfs.

What is education for? We won't even be a contender in this fight until we're committed to our own clear, coherent, values-based answer to that question. How we answer it will shape the country's future.


Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet's Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

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