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To Think or Not to Think -- A Tale of Two Platforms

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To think or not to think. This is quite literally the question in question, when comparing the 2012 Texas party platforms. One party in particular has stated in its guidelines that thinking is not to be encouraged, lest it interfere with the "fixed ideas" a child may have here in the Lone Star State. The other party makes a decent, if long-winded case for more of said dangerous 'thinking," but gets bogged down in the kind of specifics that require well, too much damned thought. It is a lot of work to sift through these sizable documents, more than most folks are willing to do. Let's face it, most folks are barely willing to vote, much less figure out what they are voting for and sadly both voting and figuring out why one is doing so are getting more complicated every day. I am going to attempt to simplify for the reader what the two parties have in mind for the future of this great state.

The two parties could not be more different in their approach. Both have a preamble which defines their core beliefs. The Republicans come out swinging against government interference and demanding strict adherence to the original intent of both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions. They then proceed immediately to the sanctity of a fertilized egg and the end of a woman's right to privacy regarding her reproductive health. They whip-saw between a fierce belief in the freedom of choice and demanding limits on that freedom. They have conveniently decided for you, exactly what constitutes a family. Families must consist of the marriage of a "natural" man and a "natural" woman. Period. (I guess Chaz Bono and the like have made this sort of distinction necessary, lest we think that the "un-naturals" have any legitimate rights or choices.) Number 11 on the preamble list is a bit odd. I have no idea what it means, so I will quote it verbatim on the off chance that the reader can decipher it.

11) "The laws of nature and nature's God" as our Founding Father's Believed.

That's it. A stand alone sentence that must be some kind of code, because the document offers no reason for stating it. It is number 11 and that appears to be that.

The Democrats being Democrats have crafted a document that is exactly 20 pages longer than their rivals'. They "believe" things for a full two pages at the top. They believe in a lot of things, a whole lot of things. The right to privacy, to vote, to civil and human rights, the freedom of religion and individual conscience. See that is catchy and they could have left it right there, but nooooo, they have to go on and believe in equal opportunity for all Texans. To be fair, this state has a history of some seriously unequal opportunity, but is this the stuff of preambles? They just cannot quit believing in things like your right to a quality education, a good job with dignity. Dignity! For christ sakes, who believes in that kind of thing anymore? It just goes on and on, they want clean drinking water and clean air to breathe, fair taxes, living wages and safe homes. They want retirement security and a compassionate safety net for the most vulnerable and, God bless them, they "believe" that Texas has the talent and resources to ensure these rights with or without federal action.

This is where the two sides meet. The both "believe", truly believe in Texas and want to believe that we can solve our own problems. Texas pride is neither left nor right and whether or not it is mis-placed, it is still awesome to behold.

At the risk of "thinking" it is time to move on to education. It is telling that the Democrats lead with this category. It appears on page 4, directly after their ambling rambling pre-amble. The Republicans mosey past a host of concerns before finally addressing education on page 11 which means it may take us a while to get there, but, it is worth taking a minute to examine what those priority topics were. In brief they are clamoring for border security and against Washington D.C. becoming a state. In no particular order they are against: Executive Orders, Affirmative Action, the Voter Rights Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Campaign Finance Reform and a host of other things including flag desecration. Yes, they weighed in on flag desecration four pages ahead of education. After a few more very random demands such as the return of plaques honoring the Confederate Widow's Pension Fund, they get down to the business of family.

The next four pages define in great detail just exactly what a family is and is not. According to the Republicans a family consists of those related by blood, heterosexual marriage or adoption. That's all folks. Domestic Partnerships do not count! Gay or straight, kids or no kids, you are not a family. Period. On the subject of gays they do not hold back. " Homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family." Not only can gays never be a family or have a family other than the one they were born into, they are said to be directly responsible for tearing families apart. From here they go to crazy town around all things "life" related for three pages and it is a tough read to be sure. They want to repeal Roe v. Wade, ban stem cell research and go on a tear against Title X, Public Health Services and Medicaid. I was giving up hope of ever seeing eye-to-eye with them on the whole "family" section, but then blessedly there it was... a statement repudiating "Human Trafficking." OK, who doesn't hate "human trafficking"? The practice of selling young people into prostitution must absolutely be abolished. Consensus. Amen.

We are going to get to the topic of education, I promise, but first we need to have a moment of silence for health care in Texas. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Texas ranks dead last in the nation for positive health outcomes.

The Democrats devote four pages of their platform to health care reform and if they could just manage to be a bit more succinct about it, they might get some traction. The Republican obsession with de-funding women's health clinics is further demonstrated by this study to be unwise. We are dead and I do mean dead last in treating breast cancer in women under 70. The Republicans address the matter by promoting self-sufficiency in all things including health care. This sounds good on paper and would be kind of noble if it was possible. Alas,taking this route resulted in us coming in first in uninsured children and adults and last in everything else. We are behind Arkansas people!

Arkansas.

OK, we have finally waded down to education. I know, I know. The Democrats have been there for pages, but we got a little side-tracked. It goes without saying that on every above mentioned issue the Democrats are on record with an opposing view. There are stark differences between the parties in almost every category and in a way that is refreshing... if their elected officials actually adhered to these beliefs, the debate would be spark filled and therefore illuminating. Alas it is mostly hot air on both sides, which is why we so rarely have real conversations about who we are and where we want to go and why so much remains unchanged. When it comes to education however, this is a debate that must be held. It is about establishing the standards by which our children and our state will be judged. It is about the future we all... right, left and center "believe" in.

Once again the priorities of order are telling. The Democrats lead with a demand for more funding. They want more access to kindergarten and early education. They want more and better community colleges, improvements to the DREAM Act and more scholarships for higher education. They seek to remedy the reduction by 13 percent of state revenue per student that has been in place since 2009. The Republicans lead by demanding that students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags. They want career and technology programs, corporal punishment and equal treatment of all sides of "scientific" theories around things like life origins and environmental change. OK, so far a predictable spilt on priorities. Democrats calling for more funding and better teacher student ratios and higher educational values and Republicans calling for measures that will instill religious and social values. No surprise there, but the next two points of the Republican agenda are startling... truly startling. As in put down your beverage lest you perform an involuntary "spit-take", startling. I will quote them directly, because you have to read it to believe it.

"We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development. "

Now that is a real heart stopper. It is one thing to love a prayer and hate a gay. It is another thing entirely to demand that Texas stop educating small children. Every possible shred of evidence points to the benefits of pre-school for all children. Many states are well on their way to enrolling every kid by the age of three. If we want to compete we cannot, must not, give in to this dunderheaded theory. This is why moderates of both parties need to pay attention. The lunatics are running away with the asylum on this and we had best run after them.

Last, but alas not least is a statement regarding "thinking" that should make any thinking person's head explode and I quote:

"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."

Maybe this statement is just hot air, but if implemented this would be a scorched earth policy for our kids. No critical thinking? No encouraging thought that challenges the "fixed beliefs" of a child? We are living in an age which challenges our beliefs about the way the world works every single day. Flexibility, imagination and the willingness to entertain new ideas are going to be crucial factors in determining who wins and who loses in the economy of the future. There are lots of things to fight about. The Democrats want students to learn more than one language, the Republicans want English only. The D's think the arts help children achieve more academically, the R's think we should stick to the basics. There are arguments to be made on both sides of most things, but we must all stand on the side of encouraging "thinking" critical and otherwise. "Fixed beliefs" are fine in a church or around the family dinner table, but our students deserve to be challenged. "Critical" or "mastery" thinking leads us on the path toward creative problem solving and objectivity. It gives us a context for our beliefs and teaches how they relate to and sometimes conflict with the beliefs of others. This kind of thinking leads one to crave independence from tyranny, to seek self-determination and to dream of and work toward a better future. These are the values upon which this country was founded and of which this state is justly proud.

Think about it Texas. Please think about it.

And vote.

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