Critical thinking with young people - best way to start?

Methods and means of supporting critical thinking in education
Kiless
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Critical thinking with young people - best way to start?

Post by Kiless » Wed Apr 12, 2006 1:50 pm

Upon reflecting on how to start bringing skepticism to young people, I mostly thought about educational-style texts and international programs aimed at promoting skeptical thinking skills and critical thinking strategies. Although I'm working on my Masters degree in special needs education (focusing on gifted education), I've found various professional development courses and texts are slowly working their way into local bookstores and become available to interested parents. But I'm a little (heh) skeptical at times in regards to their overall value and was wondering if there were any educationalists who have any comments.

The benefit of online providers of the Amazon.com ilk have not only allowed us to buy such texts online but get titles from local sellers. Of course, making orders locally also enable the bookstores to recommend them to other parents and get in additional copies on the bookshelves for casual browsers.

I'd like to mention a few I've used in the past - mind, a lot of these are mostly teacher professional development centred and every school library should also have a 'teacher resource section' that is regularly updated. Of course, community libraries have always provided study skills guides for students that can also be checked out by interested parents who can help with children's homework.

Most of my investigations have involved making English learning more accessible though involvement with critical thinking skills that are naturally a part of any discipline, although more often they are promoted in the Science classes. Yet there are professional development courses like Kagan's ( http://www.kaganonline.com/ ) who have several overarching texts (such as 'Cooperative Learning' and 'Multiple Intelligences', which draw on a variety of strategies such as Bloom's Taxonomy and Gardner) as well as a wide range of subject-specific lesson books. Kagan is an American company - if you check out their website, they even have scholarships for teachers to attend their training camps and teachers should consider them consider them if they are interested in brushing up on introducing Bloom's Taxonomy, Gardner or critical thinking strategies to classroom lessons. Mostly it's Primary school based, which is the best place to start, although strategies can be adapted.

That's probably an area that concerns me the most. 'Multiple Intelligences' has grown from a notion to now include a sort of 'naturalist' or 'nature-aware' intelligence that has me scrinching my nose in confusion. How on earth do we really measure or account for these abilities?

Philosophy for Children ('P4C'), started at a US college called Montclair State - http://cehs.montclair.edu/academic/iapc/index.shtml. I use the Philosophy in Schools methods of a Community of Inquiry with my English classes; the reading of stories and encouraging feedback and debates and mind mapping of how they come up with their thoughts. It's lots of fun as well as a useful way to introduce philosophical and logic terms, have students become comfortable with using them and encourage a communicative classroom that reflect upon hypothetical problems that are raised in the texts and in real life.

A 2003 trial of P4C was held in Scotland, (reported in The Scotsman, reprinted in the college newspaper here: http://frontpage.montclair.edu/iapc/New ... page5.html)
where Seonag Mackinnon reported upon '... the successful impact of a pioneering scheme to teach philosophy to primary schoolchildren.... launched two years ago, has caused improvements across the children's "verbal, nonverbal and quantitative reasoning abilities". The possibility of such improvements occurring by chance was found to be less than one in a thousand.'

Their short-story collections like 'Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery' (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/de ... 8&v=glance), 'Lisa', 'Kio and Gus' come with large teaching manuals and the mandatory teaching workshops can be found via the Montclair site. I would also like to recommend the slightly more accessible short stories that come with a workbook for the either the story-reader or teacher too. Philip Cam is the senior lecturer in Philosophy at the University of New South Wales who has produced not only an excellent overview of Philosophical Inquiry for the classroom in his book 'Thinking Together' but also has a range of short stories, 'Thinking Stories', with additional notes that allow children to investigate and inquire about a variety of ethical and critical thinking strands in the stories. The titles are available on the Australian Council for Educational Research publications link ( http://www.acer.edu.au/ ).

Also in Australia, the Presbyterian Ladies' College in Perth, Western Australia produced a commercial CD-ROM on applying Bloom's Taxonomy that has been sold to over 250 schools worldwide. The CD-ROM also won the 2003 award for outstanding innovation from the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL)" http://iasl-slo.org/iasl_sirs.html
This should be available via contacting the school library through http://www.plc.wa.edu.au.

The Amazing Meeting, held in January every year is also a mine for book resources. Some of the following I picked up there - it is also very useful to meet other skeptics who attend as many are fellow teachers, parents and stakeholders in encouraging critical thinking amongst young people. Here are a few titles that are just fun little informative reads:

'Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics' by Dan Barker.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/087975 ... s&v=glance

'How Do You Know It's True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition' by Hyman Ruchlis
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/087975 ... 8&v=glance

'Nibbling on Einstein's Brain: The Good, the Bad and the Bogus in Science' by Diane Swanson
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/155037 ... e&n=283155
Finally, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki ( the Julius Sumner Miller Fellow at the University of Sydney, in the Science Foundation of the Physics Department) has written 23 books on the amazing world of science. These accessible books and pod casts of his shows can be found on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation site - http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/ and his latest, 'Great Mythconceptions - Cellulite, Camel Humps and Chocolate Zits' has just been released.

The best thing I find is that by discussing what children have read and raising questions and finding the answers together... promotes more reading. And one thing we can't get enough of is making reading fun, interactive and intellectually challenging.

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Post by flyer1 » Sat Apr 15, 2006 7:11 am

My parents raised me to be a skeptic on a steady diet of National Geographic magazines, National Geographic TV specials, Wild Kingdom and other nature shows, and all the books I could read about every topic imaginable. I also went to Sunday School. One day, I asked my mother how Louis Leakey could have discovered the first man (at 5, I assumed he'd found the REAL first man!), when the Bible said that Adam was the first man. My wise and educated mother said, "Well, Louis Leakey's man could have been named Adam, couldn't he?"

I've been an empiricist ever since.

The best way to teach kids critical thinking is to expose them to as many ideas as possible. Let them try out various theories and ideas for themselves, and encourage them to ask questions. I went through a "Chariot's of the Gods" phase when I was about 12 or 13; my parents put up with it, and over time I continued to ask questions until I no longer believed in ancient astronauts.

Kids are nataural-born scientists, the trick is not to discourage them young by trying to limit their experiences.
"Have you seen my people, magician?" said the unicorn. "They are wild and sea-white, like me."
Schmendrick shook his head. "I have never seen anyone like you, not while I was awake."

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Post by Kiless » Sat Apr 15, 2006 12:59 pm

Yes, I think it's this exposure and not criticising the questioning that is the key.

I remember as a young child reading through many books that were from Time Life and Childcraft. Encyclopedias. I wonder if the disappearance of these texts due to the internet will be a factor?

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Post by corymaylett » Sat Apr 15, 2006 10:23 pm

Kiless wrote:I remember as a young child reading through many books that were from Time Life and Childcraft. Encyclopedias. I wonder if the disappearance of these texts due to the internet will be a factor?

One of the best purchases my parents ever made (with me in mind) were several sets of encyclopedias when I was in grade school. By the time I was grown, I had read through each volume from cover to cover several times.

When I had questions (like kids always do), my parents would encourage me to look up the answers and to figure them out first. Museums and libraries were always regarded as special places that warranted a certain respect and reverence. I was never told what to think, but introduced to as much as possible in a reasonably structured sort of way that took advantage of my own curiosity and interests. Independence was fostered and groupthink scorned. Analytical skills and education were usually presented to me as the lattice for creativity and imagination.

This approach might not work for every child, but for me it worked well. I never had to make a concerted effort learn critical thinking when I got older; fortunately, it's what I grew up with. I'm eager to see how my own child responds to the same sort of approach.

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Mind control at an early age

Post by KYSkeptic » Tue Apr 18, 2006 4:18 pm

Lenin Said "Give me a child for the first five years of his life and I'll have him forever." Many religious schools have proven that to be true. If folks are given easy answers to the unanswerable questions at an early age, they are likely to fall back on those answers as long as they provide comfort. It may take a traumatic experience that flies in the face of the easy answer to begin the process of stripping off the comfortable and start them on the road to skepticism.

Please indulge me a story:

That is the sort of thing that happened to me. As a church-going young adult, I was drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. I was a Surgical Technician there. After a few months of seeing death, gore, and trauma I had a crisis in faith and faith lost. Later when I related my account of my loss of faith to a christian, I was told that god had given me a test, and that I had failed the test. I was not fit to be a christian. It was a great relief to me for I no longer wanted to be associated with any church that would have me as a member. (with apologies to G. Marx)

Since then I have become a Sagenite from the Feynman sect, but I have found very few people that are prepared to discuss their myths with me. Not because I am so smart, but becuse I can't be saved!
Ubi dubium ibi libertas
(There is freedom in doubt)

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Post by Zenskeptic » Mon Jun 12, 2006 12:58 am

I frequently ask my daughters a question when they experience something or have a question about something. Why do you think that is? I've told them from the age that they could grasp it that people believe nonsense alot and they should question everything, even me.

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Post by Kiless » Mon Jun 12, 2006 2:17 am

Zenskeptic wrote:I frequently ask my daughters a question when they experience something or have a question about something. Why do you think that is? I've told them from the age that they could grasp it that people believe nonsense a lot and they should question everything, even me.


:) Cool! Thanks for bumping the topic! :)

As you've shown, I also think modelling is an important factor in influencing young children. I'm increasingly worried about the methods that 'popular' sceptical presenters promote about being aggressive nay-sayers or plain sneering at those who are credulous - and I wonder how parents might respond to this?

I reject the term 'woo' myself, as there are many people who adopt a more sceptical view over time who have held beliefs ranging from Tarot card reading, checking their horoscopes to running a health-food shop which had homeopathic remedies. Everyone has in one form or another 'been there'; hell, some of us still are! Doesn't make them less of a person because they still check their horoscope in the morning! :wink:

I'm particularly sensitive to those who are religious (having worked consistently in religious schools, even being educated at a Catholic University) and I personally look down on the childish 'ring the doorbell and run away' to any form of religious venue, whether I consider them a cult or otherwise. I rather my old one-liners about religion be humour I'd apply to any concept equally rather than self-centred one-upmanship because 'I'm a True Sceptic'.
Really - what does it achieve? 'Bad manners are cool'? 'I have the right to treat these people this way because they believe this but I wouldn't treat other people the same way'? I wonder if a sceptic’s conference would look so charitably on some of the actions taken by the righteous 'TS's being done on their turf.... [reminder to self: email Mr Shermer if he minds Christian fundamentalist streakers at the next conference...]

Every time I think of sneering, I think of young people who would be more inclined to reject my deeper message because of my attitude problem. :( And I meet plenty of young people everyday who react better to a more understanding, discursive approach backed with a collaborative research into what they believe in, rather than putting myself as the 'all hail Sceptic' on a pedestal.

There has to be a better way and IMHO, it's not being the cynic or the aggressor who tramples other human beings feelings because 'I'm right and you're insane for disagreeing with my methods' - because then you have to ask yourself, what makes that much different to those who act to belligerently con people with pseudoscientific claims? :( Not much in denying a voice that does question... and isn't all about questioning, even oneself?

Being a person who freely asks 'why do you think that and let's investigate together unjudgementally!' is certainly more proactive. :) I particularly like your 'not even me!' statement, Zenskeptic, because that admits that you're not the be-all and end-all, but are willing to demonstrate that you'll investigate yourself rather than rely on others to do your thinking for you. :)

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Post by Athon » Mon Jun 12, 2006 4:18 am

I think the goals need to be assessed as to what educators want to do in light of making people think critically. Influencing a low number of students to be critical thinkers is not difficult; it takes role modelling of the behaviour and adopting a range of resources which can assist in critical thinking skills.

The problem, however, is that again we are only looking at a percentage of the population being encouraged to think critically. Conventional resources aimed at promoting critical thinking work well with students who are already prepared to think outside of the box, to be skeptical and to be challenged in spite of what their peers think. What of the rest? What of educators who aren't critical thinkers? What of the number of students who are prepared only to learn as they always have; reciting facts and regurgitating information?

Breaking the cycles en masse is the tricky part. I think it is overly optimistic introducing reform in the classroom on any large scale, as you meet with resistance by those who can only see the old styles of teaching. Unitised curricula might be the only way to introduce a course on skeptical thinking into secondary education, however this runs the risk of being segregated from other units, hence making students think 'skepticism is for skepticism units', a little like 'maths is for maths units'. (How many times have have heard in science 'but sir, that's maths, not science!'. Grrr)

As for resources offered to parents, only those parents who are already rewarding critical thinking behaviours in their children are going to utilise them. Therefore, these resources are already succeeding regardless of how useful they might truly be.

I know this sounds cynical; it's not meant to. I honestly believe that teaching critical thinking can only work if it becomes adopted universally as a classroom skill, used in conjunction with all curriculum material. As such, it must be taught to teacher graduates at university as a skill in itself used to teach and model.

Critical thinking is already a requisite in many state curricula. It is difficult to enforce as there is no clear definition, or means of applying it in a class environment. It is also difficult to assess, therefore abandoned in favour of fact-based learning.

Athon

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Post by Kiless » Mon Jun 12, 2006 4:57 am

Athon wrote:I think the goals need to be assessed as to what educators want to do in light of making people think critically. Influencing a low number of students to be critical thinkers is not difficult; it takes role modelling of the behaviour and adopting a range of resources which can assist in critical thinking skills.


I've done some searching around in regards to philosophy courses on offer to teenagers (as a part of attending philosophy in schools seminars) and what each state (and country!) looks at differs greatly. I've seen the equivalent of 'history of philosophy' units to the P4C model. What is currently being drafted for the OBE is an interesting mixture... which is why I started 'trialling' skepticism in Year 10: http://newwace.curriculum.wa.edu.au/doc ... 4298_3.pdf

The problem, however, is that again we are only looking at a percentage of the population being encouraged to think critically. Conventional resources aimed at promoting critical thinking work well with students who are already prepared to think outside of the box, to be skeptical and to be challenged in spite of what their peers think. What of the rest? What of educators who aren't critical thinkers? What of the number of students who are prepared only to learn as they always have; reciting facts and regurgitating information?


Which is why I'm thinking that the traditional subject areas of Maths and Science have to work in conjunction in cross-curricular terms. I am, of course, under the impression that those in the Sciences will tend themselves more towards critical thinking in the classroom! Call me Pollyanna Optimism... :roll:

The number of students who are 'prepared to learn regurgitating' is something I see all the time with students from non-Australian schools. Several of my Chinese students come to mind. Which is why this has to be done across the subjects in order for them to be comfortable with it as a whole-school culture, to my mind.

Breaking the cycles en masse is the tricky part. I think it is overly optimistic introducing reform in the classroom on any large scale, as you meet with resistance by those who can only see the old styles of teaching. Unitised curricula might be the only way to introduce a course on skeptical thinking into secondary education, however this runs the risk of being segregated from other units, hence making students think 'skepticism is for skepticism units', a little like 'maths is for maths units'. (How many times have have heard in science 'but sir, that's maths, not science!'. Grrr)


I think I'm more on the large scale, although I'm looking at the overhaul of OBE only this week as a nice splash in the face... could the notion of just two or three subject supporting each other be more likely? Science/English/Maths? [I liked the way our Maths Dept had a year long survey with their Year 8 students - to collate how often Math terms were used in other subjects. Apparently Phys Ed were the winners as they always 'divided the class'! :) ]

As for resources offered to parents, only those parents who are already rewarding critical thinking behaviours in their children are going to utilise them. Therefore, these resources are already succeeding regardless of how useful they might truly be.


Schools should, in the ideal world, be in touch with their communities. Parents have as much ownership of a school as the students do. Again, Polly Optimism... :(

I know this sounds cynical; it's not meant to. I honestly believe that teaching critical thinking can only work if it becomes adopted universally as a classroom skill, used in conjunction with all curriculum material. As such, it must be taught to teacher graduates at university as a skill in itself used to teach and model.


Agreed. Cultural understanding units are mandatory in my state (even ended up at a teaching prac info session as a part of a panel discussion, where I essentially pushed the message that 'if you don't know, take the time to ASK rather than make assumptions about student behaviours! You lose nothing by taking the initative with a student you honestly care about!'). So why aren't critical thinking units?

Although my Uni had as a mandatory part of the undergrad degree Philosophy 101. Led me to major in the subject. Should this also be a consideration?

Critical thinking is already a requisite in many state curricula. It is difficult to enforce as there is no clear definition, or means of applying it in a class environment. It is also difficult to assess, therefore abandoned in favour of fact-based learning.


So - what could be drawn upon to define it? And how CAN it be assessed... could it be done in more than one subject area?

(Sorry, it's lunch and I always have questions for lunch :) ).

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Post by Athon » Mon Jun 12, 2006 12:38 pm

Kiless wrote:Which is why I'm thinking that the traditional subject areas of Maths and Science have to work in conjunction in cross-curricular terms. I am, of course, under the impression that those in the Sciences will tend themselves more towards critical thinking in the classroom! Call me Pollyanna Optimism... :roll:


Miss Polly, I'm afraid you are being a touch optimistic.

You know already that this was my big wake-up to reality; science is all too often taught as trivia, not as a way of thinking. Maths is taught as a system of number tricks and not as a way of quantifying the world around us. Of course you always get those fantastic teachers who turn this thinking on its head, however these are exceptions to the rule.

The real issue is how do we get critical thinking taught regardless of the efforts of the teacher? It's not enough that we have a few critical thinkers who are teaching when far more are simply science teachers who teach text-book science without knowing what science really is. It needs to be entrenched as the standard rather than the odd, exceptional educator. I don't believe I'm being optimistic in thinking this is not impossible. It will happen when critical thinking is equated with literacy and numeracy as a life skill.

The number of students who are 'prepared to learn regurgitating' is something I see all the time with students from non-Australian schools. Several of my Chinese students come to mind. Which is why this has to be done across the subjects in order for them to be comfortable with it as a whole-school culture, to my mind.


I agree fully. Integrated curricula, IMO, is the only way to go. Unfortunately it's far too threatening to a lot of teachers who have been in the system since Adam was a pup. It's a social evolution. Slowly does it.

I think I'm more on the large scale, although I'm looking at the overhaul of OBE only this week as a nice splash in the face... could the notion of just two or three subject supporting each other be more likely? Science/English/Maths? [I liked the way our Maths Dept had a year long survey with their Year 8 students - to collate how often Math terms were used in other subjects. Apparently Phys Ed were the winners as they always 'divided the class'! :) ]


Possibly. However, the problem here remains that some subjects are different to others; it is seen as a distinction of disciplines rather than an assortment of skills. But I do think it's a step forward.

Schools should, in the ideal world, be in touch with their communities. Parents have as much ownership of a school as the students do. Again, Polly Optimism... :(


This is the single biggest change in the past half century and the one that has done the most significant damage. When communities begin to become more interactive, then we will see an improvement in most social problems.

So - what could be drawn upon to define it? And how CAN it be assessed... could it be done in more than one subject area?

(Sorry, it's lunch and I always have questions for lunch :) ).


Thanks for the $64 million question. To the second question, yes. All subjects could contain critical thinking.

Teaching it? Well, you've read my essay, and I still need to work on it before I unleash it on the public.

Assessing it? That's a tricky one.

Athon

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Post by Kiless » Wed Aug 30, 2006 1:45 am

Bumping because Beleth was interested.
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Post by aockey » Thu Aug 31, 2006 4:27 pm

I think I'm posting this under the correct forum. If not, please let me know where it should go.

I'm an atheist father of three great kids. One in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school. I have raised all of my kids to be free thinkers, however I have noticed lately all of them coming under fire from religious friends at school. The churches and bible study classes are tuning these kids today to be religious fanatics and attempting to convert these kids at all costs. They are fueling them with arguments and telling them it's better to lose a friend then to associate with an atheist.

Now my oldest can handle it. As a matter of fact, she has opened one of her devout catholic friends eyes and is now an agnostic. But my two younger kids are starting to get scared. They are being told things like they are going to hell for not believing. I'm sorry, but a 9 year old kid shouldn't have to live with a fear of death.

I'm at a loss for how to better equip my kids to deal with these situations. These religious kids are getting refueled with other arguments and group reassurance on, at least, a weekly basis.

I've been watching some of the debates on Youtube and other sources to try to give my kids better answers to deal with them, but a lot of the terms go right over their heads. Also, we subscribe to National Geographic and watch the History channel when it deals with these subjects specifically, but, again, a lot of the terms are a bit much for a 9 year old to digest.

Then I think of all the religious cartoon propaganda that these other kids are getting, the story books, action figures, clubs, and national associations devoted to them. Is there ANYTHING like that for my kids?

I really need some help here. I feeling like I'm fighting a losing battle here.

Edit: By the way, I have read the suggestions above on what to read, but my funds are rather limited right now. I'm really hoping for something for my kids to get together with other kids like them to discuss these issues. Kind of like the church does for their kids.

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Post by Kiless » Thu Aug 31, 2006 10:20 pm

aockey wrote:I think I'm posting this under the correct forum. If not, please let me know where it should go.

I'm an atheist father of three great kids. One in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school. I have raised all of my kids to be free thinkers, however I have noticed lately all of them coming under fire from religious friends at school. The churches and bible study classes are tuning these kids today to be religious fanatics and attempting to convert these kids at all costs. They are fueling them with arguments and telling them it's better to lose a friend then to associate with an atheist.

Now my oldest can handle it. As a matter of fact, she has opened one of her devout catholic friends eyes and is now an agnostic. But my two younger kids are starting to get scared. They are being told things like they are going to hell for not believing. I'm sorry, but a 9 year old kid shouldn't have to live with a fear of death.

I'm at a loss for how to better equip my kids to deal with these situations. These religious kids are getting refueled with other arguments and group reassurance on, at least, a weekly basis.

I've been watching some of the debates on Youtube and other sources to try to give my kids better answers to deal with them, but a lot of the terms go right over their heads. Also, we subscribe to National Geographic and watch the History channel when it deals with these subjects specifically, but, again, a lot of the terms are a bit much for a 9 year old to digest.

Then I think of all the religious cartoon propaganda that these other kids are getting, the story books, action figures, clubs, and national associations devoted to them. Is there ANYTHING like that for my kids?

I really need some help here. I feeling like I'm fighting a losing battle here.

Edit: By the way, I have read the suggestions above on what to read, but my funds are rather limited right now. I'm really hoping for something for my kids to get together with other kids like them to discuss these issues. Kind of like the church does for their kids.


Damn, that really is aggressive stuff. :(

I'm going to go to work and repost in this thread with some ideas. Hang in there.

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Post by statisticool » Thu Aug 31, 2006 10:30 pm

Best way to stary imo is to see your parents exhibit criticism.

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Post by Raskolnikov » Fri Sep 01, 2006 2:48 pm

Personally, I would advise making sure that the kids know it is okay for them to dig into religion, and explore the questions that their friends are raising. It is far better for them to come to whatever conclusions they arrive at on their own, with exposure to a wide variety of arguments. they live in a religious world, and it is better for them to explore that world under your supervision.

One thing to recognize, however, is that peer acceptance is extremely powerful to kids, and a very large percentage of their peers are going to be religious. Help them find a way to be accepted by their peers *and* think independently. It might be wise to teach them the time-honored non-theist tactic of changing the subject when religion comes up at social events. I think kids who aren't part of the religious majority need to be informed of this fact, and need some tips for how to get along.

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Post by Thorn » Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:02 pm

I think that Skepticism should come naturally at a certain age. Teens are often in rebellious stages during their most important years. If one could manage to relate skepticism to them in these years, teach them that science promotes such thinking, so long as it's backed. Teens take to science very quickly, if done right. Most of the kids in teh High Schools I work either love Mythbusters or haven't seen it. They take to such things, and don't realise how much out there is easy to teach. It isn't about teaching them disbelief, but rather revealing the scientific method to them in an interesting way. Experimentation is easily the best way.
"In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms."
-S.J. Gould

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Post by Pyrrho » Fri Sep 01, 2006 9:02 pm

Puzzle-solving can be used to teach critical thinking skills. I met a professor who used computer games such as Zork to teach critical thinking, because it helped students to consider solutions that were not immediately apparent. Optical illusions are also useful--they demonstrate that things are not always what they seem, and that perceptions can be unreliable.
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Post by Pyrrho » Fri Sep 01, 2006 9:03 pm

Regarding the OP, SKEPTIC Magazine runs a "Junior Skeptic" section in each issue.

http://www.skeptic.com
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Post by Kiless » Sat Sep 02, 2006 12:54 am

Jim Dominic wrote:Regarding the OP, SKEPTIC Magazine runs a "Junior Skeptic" section in each issue.

http://www.skeptic.com


That was something I was going to mention to Aockey, despite the 'funds are rather limited' point.

Anyway, I did a brainstorm (even discussed it indirectly with students as we were looking at To Kill a Mockingbird) and my response boils down to this - what you have there is a situation of students bullying those who aren't of the same religious faith.

If this is 'church and bible study class', fight back with the school's support. If the principal, school councillor, school board and teachers wouldn't tolerate children ganging up on a Jewish child and telling them that they're going to hell for not being Catholic... then they should have the same zero tolerance for a child who choses not to have religious beliefs. Bullying is never to something to be silent about as it just breeds a culture of not-seen-not-a-problem.

In saying that, I know that atheists don't seem to have the same sort of leeway as as religious people. Look at the term 'Bright' and how it's still working towards being well-known. But it's something they'd be interested in, if you're wanting to see if you can get a quasi-official body to speak up on your behalf, let alone the power of religious freedom and human rights to have your child not treated this way.

This is, overall, a community problem. Contact the church, ask them to review what they are doing about improving tolerance in their classes. Point out that if they want to challenge a child's right to be educated and unthreatened, that they'll have more hell on their hands if you go to the newspapers, magazines, radio, school board, dioese, bishop, state body for the religion, et al and point out that they're breeding dissension amongst young children and encouraging them to become bigots.

As for resilience - Jim mentioned the humble cost of a magazine. I'd support that with the addition of the humble library card and being productive in requesting books like those on the skeptic.com list as suitable for young children with an interest in Science.

After all, you mentioned how another young child went from being religious to being agnostic. Bullies ARE ALSO CHILDREN and need help too! Perhaps their bullying is because they see atheists as challenging to their world that perhaps they're also questioning and finding wanting. What if your nine year old is right when she says it's a load of cobblers? Would all of their peers gang up on them? Who can they turn to when they perhaps think that their parents would behave like their peers? What if their world really does tell them that all who are not of the faith are doomed? Wouldn't a GOOD Christian child do their best to convert people? Would they be seen as a failure if they don't? And what if their 'reasons' don't seem to have an effect on your child? Wouldn't they become frustrated and hit out?

Therefore promoting literature, both books and periodicals, may help them find their own way. Even the indirect effect of encouraging more interest in Science is a bonus.

See if the school encourages Science week. See if they run camps, if there's a gifted education program that your child can attend. The finding-like-peers is tough and perhaps the school can and certainly should help a child who is finding less opportunities to investigate their world because the peer group says 'don't question'.

More suggestions? Contact the likes of Skeptic.com magazine and say that you have a young person who is keen to review any new books suitable for the young skeptic. :D Then you get to keep the book and develop the identity of someone who is appreciated for their non-secular views.

Or even a local publication, a Science mag; in Australian we have Helix which is the teen mag for the CSIRO link. If you don't have a similar little low-budget mag - WHY NOT? Go to your national Science body and ask when are they going to something similar??

As you can see from Helix, they have the 'Double Helix Science Club' and there SHOULD be something similar in the USA. If not, get questioning on your child's behalf!


I have not, as you may have noticed, mentioned online forums for children as I have sadly experienced too little thought put into how to really accomodate young people online. Despite my well-meaning message here, I don't often think that those who run skeptics sites really think about the groundroots problem of people like yourself who really are in need of guidance. We're all throwing in helpful suggestions, sure.

Writing 'here's some links to get kids to try Science at home!' or 'just talk to your kids and say that it's okay to be questioning!', by those who really have put themselves into a position (either by hard work or whatever) to be on a pedestal for 'teh skeptik cause' ... is hardly admirable when those who gain less attention by the masses have already done likewise on a thread like this (just see all the posters above!).

Saying you're doing something for skepticism but not actually checking or caring if it genuinely makes a real, accountable difference... But I've said enough about the situation. :(


Short term - talk to the school, the church, your library, the Science dept, any government group who provides opportunities for young people and could reach out to your child and support them. The situation is of bullying, intolerance, pastoral care for a child no matter what their religious beliefs and needing informed support for encouraging a more knowlegable child who can look the bullies in the eye and know that they are not alone.

Long term - boost resilience and support, become part of a wider community and know that the school is behind them, grow the peer base through activities outside of school like camps, excursions, reading groups at the library, university field days for Science, Science fairs, (do you have the Tournament for the Mind in the USA? If not get talking to people and get it going! - http://www.tom.edu.au/), exposure to documentaries, literature, a bigger world and a bigger attitude than those who think it's okay to condemn people.

All the time.... talk to your kid. Let them know they are loved.

But you already knew that, eh? :)

Please, keep in touch about this. I don't like to think that anything I say is an end in itself or a solution - until I've seen something actually come from it beyond my words.

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Post by aockey » Sat Sep 02, 2006 2:33 pm

These are great suggestions. Thank you so much for your support in this matter.

I sat my two youngest kids down a couple nights ago and had a long talk with them about this. They seem re-energized on the whole matter, but I know this could be an ongoing struggle for them that I just need to be ready for.

Last night I met with my very first atheist group through Meetup.com. It was very refreshing for me and we were able to discuss the matter in length, which was pretty re-energizing for me.

My daughters are looking forward to a Youth section on these boards and wish to be active in it as much as possible.

Again, thank you so much for your support.

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Post by Kiless » Sat Sep 02, 2006 2:53 pm

aockey wrote:These are great suggestions. Thank you so much for your support in this matter.

I sat my two youngest kids down a couple nights ago and had a long talk with them about this. They seem re-energized on the whole matter, but I know this could be an ongoing struggle for them that I just need to be ready for.

Last night I met with my very first atheist group through Meetup.com. It was very refreshing for me and we were able to discuss the matter in length, which was pretty re-energizing for me.

My daughters are looking forward to a Youth section on these boards and wish to be active in it as much as possible.

Again, thank you so much for your support.


Excellent, it's good to know that there's more support groups that you have found online - I haven't used meetup.com but know that there are some very proactive atheist communities which is fantastic. :) I do think, however, that online activities by children have to be very structured and organised for legal reasons - perhaps suggesting ideas or concerns with you and then you translating them to a forum conversation on their behalf would be better?

COPA registration would look in on any sort of slap-dash effort with a children's section on a forum board and as a teacher who has faced the problem of young people providing a lot of information on line (horrible situation this year with a young woman in my class and how the internet was used to humiliate her) I'd be very concerned about any decisions without research and care on the part of skeptic.com. I don't want this place shut down! :(

Thanks for getting back in touch. :)

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Post by JO 753 » Sun Sep 03, 2006 7:46 am

Its very important to not teach kidz to accept info simply bekuz it came from an authority figure. This haz been the main device con men and charlitanz have relied on successfully for thousandz uv yearz.

Bekuz all subjects hav bekum so vast and complex, we are often reliant on the credentialz uv an expert wen deciding whether to trust them or not. But wenever practical, its better to learn all we can about important thingz and decide for ourselvez if the 'experts' are really making sense. Far too often I have found that a fancy degree only meanz that the expert haz sat in a classroom for so many yearz, but never had any talent for the subject. Remembering iz not thinking, so people like that bekum gatekeeperz uv old knowledge and do nothing but hinder progress.

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Post by Pyrrho » Sun Sep 03, 2006 2:26 pm

Kiless wrote:
aockey wrote:These are great suggestions. Thank you so much for your support in this matter.

I sat my two youngest kids down a couple nights ago and had a long talk with them about this. They seem re-energized on the whole matter, but I know this could be an ongoing struggle for them that I just need to be ready for.

Last night I met with my very first atheist group through Meetup.com. It was very refreshing for me and we were able to discuss the matter in length, which was pretty re-energizing for me.

My daughters are looking forward to a Youth section on these boards and wish to be active in it as much as possible.

Again, thank you so much for your support.


Excellent, it's good to know that there's more support groups that you have found online - I haven't used meetup.com but know that there are some very proactive atheist communities which is fantastic. :) I do think, however, that online activities by children have to be very structured and organised for legal reasons - perhaps suggesting ideas or concerns with you and then you translating them to a forum conversation on their behalf would be better?

COPA registration would look in on any sort of slap-dash effort with a children's section on a forum board and as a teacher who has faced the problem of young people providing a lot of information on line (horrible situation this year with a young woman in my class and how the internet was used to humiliate her) I'd be very concerned about any decisions without research and care on the part of skeptic.com. I don't want this place shut down! :(

Thanks for getting back in touch. :)

The idea is worth considering--Electric Monk suggested a "Junior Skeptic" section back in the planning phase for this forum. We'd have to set it up as a separate board, or at least as a special usergroup-only section, because in my opinion certain features would have to be disabled in order to protect privacy. Private messaging, image display would be disabled, email addresses masked, and so on.

Although it would be a nonprofit thing, I believe COPPA rules still apply and there are certain steps that would have to be taken. Participation could only be by parental consent for children under the age of 13. The problem isn't so much the collection of personally identifying information as it is preventing exploitation by pedophiles. Yes, they are out there.

This would also require some serious commitment on the part of the people operating such a site. It's achievable and probably worth doing. The Skeptics Society may have some things in the works but I really don't know, and I can't take the step of setting something up under their banner without their full involvement and permission. I'll send an email to see what their thoughts on the subject might be.
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