jeudi 13 octobre 2011

More on raising freethinkers

Excerpts from a post on the "Parents Beyond Belief" blog I just discovered:

[The writer's 6-year-old has just claimed that "Black people are not nice."]

"I opened my mouth to respond - and then shut it. What I had been about to do was to indoctrinate. [...] After struggling for a moment, I [...] found more solid footing. My first objective, I decided, was to teach critical thinking, not to defend my beliefs or instill them in my child. Telling him that he should give more weight to my positions, or to social consensus, than to his own experience struck me as failure to model skepticism.


A good first step to checking the quality of your thinking is to argue with ourselves: Could he come up with information that contradicted his conclusion? For example, could he think of instances in which white people had not been nice? He thought a bit, then named some. Could he think of black people who were really nice? Yes, his Kindergarten teacher, his swimming instructor, and the principal of his school, among others.

"How many black and white people have you met? How many do you think there are in the world?" He couldn't answer that, but we agreed that there were far more people in the world than either he or I knew personally. I wondered out loud how likely it was that he had simply had bad luck and met an unusual number of mean black people and nice white people. He couldn't think of a reason why that would be so (a broader view of things just begins to emerge around age 6, after all), but he conceded that it was at least possible.

I asked him to assess the quality of his conclusion now that we had played devil's advocate with ourselves. He was quite a bit less certain and we agreed that he did not have enough information to determine whether his statement was true or not. We decided to revisit the issue when we had more information.

And the battle for critical thinking was won that day.


What I discovered that day was that the critical point in good thinking is that first moment when, instead of jumping from plausible explanation straight to firm conclusion, we are willing to entertain, and even generate, some doubt. I realized that one of my key jobs as a parent was to teach my son how to create that doubt within himself. To that end, we have often played the Devil's Advocate game.

A few years ago, my son presented me with a book titled "Don't Believe Everything You Think". I think that clever title could be a motto for skeptical parenting. I don't know any secular parents who do not want to raise critical thinkers. I have come to believe (provisionally, as behooves a skeptic) that if we can manage to impart onto our children the habit of always running an error-check on their conclusions, to always argue with themselves, to be, most of all, skeptical of their own opinions, the biggest hurdle is taken."

This is just how I want to raise my children: to be critical thinkers. I want them to continually question their own thinking and the conclusions they come to. Not try to instill my beliefs in my child, but let them come to their own conclusions.

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