Teaching to think critically

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There can be no question in this time of disinformation and deceit that, more than ever before, human beings have to be able to think critically, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro. 

We have to weigh up the information in front of us, ask what it means, if it's accurate, what's missing, is it the truth or a distortion of the truth fed to us by someone with a particular agenda?

Our youngsters face this every time they interact face to face and with the information technologies and social media available to them.

At times our toddlers and preschoolers can fill us with wonderment with the clever things they come up with. Viewing things in the light of their own limited experience can give them a whole different and sometimes hilarious meaning.

But therein, too, lies the catch for our kids who are older than toddlers - the limited experience and knowledge they have as the basis for considering the almost limitless accurate and false, impartial and biased, moral and immoral information available to them. And if they're interpreting it unquestioningly, then we have a problem.

Once a youngster could pretty much rely on the accuracy of information available to them in books and encyclopedias and they saw little material parents didn't want them exposed to. As well, the adult family friends and teachers around them could generally be relied on to follow the values that matched a parent's general approach to life.

Now they're faced with a tsunami of ideas, points of view and information that can both broaden their world in an amazing way and also be stuff for which they aren't intellectually or emotionally ready.

On one hand, you might feel that for a teenager living in a dictatorship, Facebook exposure to information about life in a democracy would be a good thing, but, conversely, exposure of your own offspring to someone's perceived positives of satanic practice would be bad.

The best thing we can do in the face of this is to attempt to create a thinking environment. From an early age, ask questions of our youngsters; get them to explain things to us.

The best question we can ask is "what if?". It gets them to think ahead, think about what something might mean and about consequences, and have them give reasons. Often as not there's no right answer but that's not the purpose. The purpose is to start developing critical thinking skills - to question, question, question.

At times you might regret doing this when the questions come fast and furious and you don't feel like providing your teenager with a reason beyond "because I said so", but the risks of not teaching critical thinking skills far outweigh this temporary inconvenience.

More on this next week.

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