Thursday, July 20, 2006

How to Raise Critical Thinkers

Many of the biggest proponents of critical thinking are themselves converts from authoritarianism. Raised in families in which authority was simply asserted, they went off to school where they were taught to think critically about all authorities, whether texts or people. Thereafter they regarded themselves as liberated from authoritarianism.

And then they had children. They were put into the position of authority. What to do? Many first-generation critical thinkers went overboard the other way. On principle, they never told their children what to do, never said no. They didn't teach their children any religious faith, in hopes that the kids would make up their own minds. They didn't make their kids read any good books, for fear of imposing a standard of goodness by authority. Likewise, they didn't forbid their children any books, movies, games, etc., for fear of stifling their creativity.

But the basic fact is that children need authority. They need limits, crave structure, beg for authoritative teaching. You can't raise kids to be critical thinkers permissively.

How do you raise critical thinkers? Use your parental authority to teach your children to question authority.

I use the simple expedient of telling my children outrageous falsehoods every day. From "good morning, chicken head, what lovely feathers you have today," to "lights outs, beloved; research has shown that sleep-deprived children develop tails," my kids are subject to a constant stream of, shall we say, critical thinking opportunities. They usually respond with reasoned arguments demonstrating that dad is obviously mistaken, again. Gradually, they are also developing wittier parries to these paternal fibs. This makes for a happy home, though it is sometimes disconcerting to visitors.

So, if you love you kids, lie to them. They will think you for it later.

11 comments:

Alan said...

When I was teaching HS, I used to at some point, when it fit into the lesson, make the off-hand comment that the moon landing was a hoax. The students were, of course, completely shocked that I'd make such a dumb statement. But within about 5 minutes I could get kids to believe it, and then we'd have a little talk about why they would possibily believe such a dumb idea based on such flimsy "evidence" that I'd present. It was always a fun discussion.

Mark Smith said...

Very nice.

Classical Presbyterian said...

My dad used to offer me two breakfast choices: Chicken Lips or Donkey Fazoo.

I learned early on to question the menu!

I guess as a Calvinist pastor, that's what I'm still doing today in sermons and in blogging--questioning what's being served and why!

SPorcupine said...

My mother denied that there was a planet Neptune, to the same effect as challenging the moon landing. Yes, I think it works.

Gruntled said...

The Neptune landing was a hoax? Fazoo!

Mark Smith said...

I guess my Neptune rock must be fake, eh?

Pastorjeff said...

We didn't go the 'lie' route, but when we would give give them direction and boundaries, especially in terms of our faith, we would tell them the reasons we believed what we believe, what others believed, why we thought they were wrong and where they could find opposing points of view so they could look for themselves. We made it clear that we didn't believe that truth is relative, but that absolute truth is reasonable and can stand up to scrutiny. They are almost all in their twenties and are even more traditional than my wife and I, and have been the bane of some of their professors who weren't used to being challenged. Verdict? Critical thinking...good!

Anonymous said...

After the truth about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause children tend to think that God is nothing but a "story" too.

Gruntled said...

I found that critical thinking about the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause deepened my faith. The struggle with the pagan fertility goddess of estrus, and the life of the great Turkish saint, are religiously rich stories. The way that they have been turned into innocuous commodities is likewise a religiously instructive story about the domestication of faith.

I am not sure about the theology of the tooth fairy.

Trekin4JC said...

I was surprised when I read that Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote to the common non scholar audience of his day when today mostly only the learned desire to tackles his philosophical books. Another enigma is that the Federalist Papers written in 1776 and published in the common newspaper to the common readers in defense of the proposed Constitution are today not understood by most law school students. We must learn to think and to think about how we think. We need to challenge young people to use their minds.

Gruntled said...

The educated lay public of Lewis' lectures on the educational station of the BBC, and even so more for the pamphlet readers of the Federalist Papers in the 18th century, was quite a bit narrower than the educated public of today. The apparently changing audiences for both are not, in themselves, proof of declining standards of thought in the population at large.