When I was pregnant with our first baby, my husband and I were talking about what we were looking forward to teaching her. We talked about many things including reading, programming, riding a bicycle, flying plastic bags, badminton etc.. These, of course, were fun and important learning experiences we wanted to share in. But we both agreed that the one thing which was really important to teach our child was, 'How to think'.
Why is this important to us? Our world is changing so fast that both the physical objects of today, as well as some acceptable ethics and social norms, would be unrecognizable a century ago. So we can't really equip our child for life, by teaching her what to think. Our ideas of what to think today may be quite antiquated in tomorrow's world, where we want her to thrive.
The circumstances may change and the axioms may change, but the process of thinking has not significantly changed. It is the process of critical thinking, we want to teach her, so she can apply it in the situations she encounters.
Today, the world is a lot smaller than it used to be. Dissemination of information has become easy
and efficient. So children are exposed to many theories and ideas. Most of what goes viral, strongly appeals to emotion and is not a well thought out or balanced argument.
It is usually propaganda designed to rile you up to serve someone's personal agenda. That is not to say that, there is no good in their point of view or argument, only that it is usually presented in a simplistic way ignoring all other perspectives and possibilities so as to have mob appeal.
For this reason, it is important to equip our kids with the ability to think.
What do you do when your child approaches you with very strong opinions because of exposure to strongly worded propaganda drenched in emotion?
My approach would be to make it an exercise in applying critical thinking. Ask them why they believe what they believe.
If they quote facts, help them fact check. In the age of the internet, this is both easy and difficult. It is easy to get lot of information, but difficult to know what is authentic and trustworthy. So one must look for several independent sources, not ones that quote each other. Check for consistency among independent sources. Believe only that, which is reported by all independent sources, and that too with a grain of salt.
If they quote statistical data, help them check sample sizes and confidence intervals. Explain that without large enough sample sizes and large enough confidence intervals statistical data is meaningless and often used to trick people or dishonestly serve some agenda. As Mark Twain wisely said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
If the facts check out try to follow their argument. Work with them, to see if the arguments are logically sound. Strong appeals to emotion, are usually used to cover up holes in an argument. Help them scrutinize these for what they are hiding. Re examine the information for what was not said or deliberately left out. What should have been there but is not. Why is it missing? Check up on it.
Do the conclusions still hold up? May be they do but, may be not as colorfully as it was presented.
There is still one step left. Expose your kids to the game of devil's advocate, where they have to come up with some arguments, at least weak ones, in favor of a different perspective. There is rarely only one right perspective, very rarely.
Your kids may still agree with the original theory or idea, but now they are better informed, and have a more balanced perspective.
The process is never complete. Encourage your kids to re-examine their past conclusions in the light of new data, tools or circumstances. One is never too old or too proud to learn, rethink and then do it again.
I want to be clear that, I have nothing against either emotion or compassion. In fact I believe compassion to be a vital quality in a well adjusted human being. But the compassion must be ours to exercise at our own discretion. It is not to be forced on us by emotional blackmail to serve someone else's agenda. Critical thinking is a great defense against such exploitation.
With time, it is also important to examine core beliefs and principles and rethink their validity based on experiences. This process of introspection is important for any thinking person to enrich their lives. The best way to teach our kids critical thinking and introspection is to practice it ourselves, of course. If they see us practice it, and take them through the process when we make decisions, it becomes their natural approach to processing information.
I believe we should allow our kids to develop their own theories, ideas and opinions but encourage them to arrive at them by rigorous critical thinking and introspection. If we teach our kids critical thinking, we can trust their choices even if we don't agree with them. This way they can be safe, free and well equipped to take on a world we cannot anticipate. #KhuljayeBachpan the prudent way.