"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Teaching Kids To Go Back To Asking "Why"

Those who have children know that period of toddlerhood that causes parents to go through a period of existential angst; that time when their every utterance is met with the response, "Why?" Sometimes the question is sincere. Other times it is simply a very immature attempt to continue the interaction without really having anything of substance to contribute. (Oh boy! Mommy keeps talking to me if I use this word.) The continued "why" device causes us to examine that which we often take for granted to its most basic, and sometimes absurd, emanation. The child who persists long enough is apt to hear an exasperated parent say, "Because I said so!"

Take heart, those of you who are in the throws of whys. That seemingly pointless and frustrating exchange actually teaches children a line of reasoning and the practice of investigation. Childrens' natural inquisitiveness can be channeled into developing critical thinking skills. This is the new watch word in education reform. We all want children to be able to think critically and part of doing that is questioning information that is given to them. But children in the UK are likely hear an exasperated teacher use the "Because" response if they bring this socratic method into their classroom.

In many ways Britain is ahead of the United States in implementing school reform measures with an extreme politically correct agenda. If we want to know how some of the things being proposed in the US are likely to work out, we need only look at the British crystal ball.

Demos, a British think tank, which was founded in 1993 by marxists Martin Jacques and Geoff Mulgan, has begun a campaign to draw public attention to the potential for children to "fall victim" to internet propaganda. Demos was closely affiliated with Tony Blair’s Labour government and continues to be a public relations firm for the British government and security services. Their concern is that children are regularly citing "conspiracy theories" and false propaganda in class because they have not been trained to think critically about information they gather from the internet or other sources outside of school.

On the one hand, this is a valid concern. The internet is full of false or misleading information. Go to Youtube and look up videos on 9/11. In a 15:1 ratio they fall on the conspiracy side, "clearly" demonstrating with video that it was (pick your favorite): planned demolition, Soviet/Chinese missiles, US black ops, radical christians etc.

Wikipedia is based on the belief that truth is just what everyone agrees upon. Their open source encyclopedia has frequently been the target of information hackers with an agenda and no oversight. Students are warned to use it with caution, if at all.

White House information czar Cass Sunstein wrote in a 2008 white paper that conspiracy websites are so abundant, so dangerous, and so difficult to shut down that the government needs a program to infiltrate and undermined them in order to dilute their influence. He even suggested that conspiracy theories (any viewpoint that differs with the official version) be taxed or, if particularly counter to the reining administration, be banned all together.

But not everything on the internet is false. Conversely, not everything presented in school is true. MEW has already questioned the Show Me Standard for Social studies that teaches our children our country has a Democracy. Scores of students have had to sit through Al Gore's disaster (in terms of factual information) movie "An Inconvenient Truth" or PBS's "The Big Energy Gamble" which features Van Jones telling them how green energy will save American jobs and the planet. The first Lady's "Let's Move" program was brought into the classroom and told children that doing a simple dance for 20 minutes a day, along with using the incredibly simplistic (and misleading) calculation of BMI, was going to end their obesity.

If your goal is to develop students with critical thinking skills, shouldn't those skills apply to everything they hear or read, including information in the classroom? Shouldn't they be asking the teacher, "Why does the government get to pick which energy source we use? Why did we start calling our government a Democracy shortly after the turn of the last century? Why is the school (of all places) so concerned about our BMI?" I'm fairly certain it wouldn't take long for them to hear that familiar old refrain, "Because we said so."

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