Critical Literacy

Before I had kids, I used to lament the various subjects that I felt should be taught in schools, but aren’t. Now that I have kids, I don’t lament – I just figure out how I’ll teach those things myself.

I’ve thought of an exercise I’m going to start doing with my kids (for now, only my oldest can read, but they’ll all eventually do it) in order to teach them a few things about the importance of skepticism.

Here’s the exercise. I’ll write out three paragraphs, one on each of three different topics. Two of them will contain true information about say, the weight of certain metals or the life cycle of a kind of frog or whatever. One will be total made-up hogwash, but I’ll make it sound as good as the other two. I won’t use information that is obviously untrue; it will be stuff that you’d have to actually know about to disprove. (A good start for examples would be the List of Common Misconceptions.)

Then, I’ll tell her that one of the paragraphs is baloney, and she has to independently figure out which. When she thinks she knows, I’ll make her put $1 to $5 of her own money on her guess (her choice) as a bet with 50/50 odds. If she’s right, she’ll get paid. If she’s wrong, she’ll lose out.

One of the best ways to be a good critical thinker is to bet on your thinking. I want my kids to be able to someday say “Daddy didn’t raise no sucker,” and so I want to set them down the path early of recognizing that not all information presented to them will necessarily be true, and that being able to discover which is which can be a vital skill for independence.

I can’t wait to see how she does!

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