Is it really? I don't think so. The prime, if unacknowledged, directive for any school district is to reflect the beliefs and commitments of the preponderance of the community. How can it be otherwise when our public schools are run by locally elected boards? So whatever else a school superintendent might chose to do, he or she had better not countenance the teaching of anything that critically examines broadly accepted community values.
Let's take religious values, for example. Public schools aren't supposed to favor any religion — although many of them quietly do. But the Supreme Court certainly did not ban public schools from critically, but neutrally, examining religious issues.
Now imagine a public school curriculum which includes a consideration of whether we can reconcile the co-existence of evil - particularly the physical suffering of innocents - with that of a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Such a consideration would certainly count as critical thinking. But the school superintendent who countenances it had better have other career options.
Patriotism provides a second example. Suppose we invite high schoolers to think critically about the nation's "fallen warriors." They might be asked, for example, were those men and women killed in the second Iraq war really authentic heroes or just tragic victims of a colossal blunder? Considering this question would certainly involve critical thinking. But imagine the white hot reaction of local "patriots." With a little luck an inquiry such as this might even get "fair and balanced" coverage on Fox News.
The bottom line is that no locally elected board of education is going to countenance a seriously critical examination of any values that are cherished by significantly vocal elements within the community. And that, my friend, is that.
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