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Teach Kids How to Think - How?

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limitgov Posted: Tue, Oct 2 2012 10:40 AM

I'm a teacher.  People always say we need to teach kids how to think.

What lessons would you create to teach kids how to think?  I'm interested in teaching my students "how to think", but I'm not sure what the lessons would be like.  I'm willing to use what the people on this forum come up with if its something good.

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 10:47 AM

Introduce basic logic. You can even stick with just informal logic. Teach them common logical fallacies and show them examples "in the wild".

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limitgov replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 11:03 AM

can you give me examples of what you would actually have the students do?

keep in mind all of my students have access to a computer in front of them.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 11:38 AM

Along with what GotLucky said, I'd start with the three laws of thought. I think kids already understand them intuitively, but I think it's good to articulate/formalize them as well.

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It largely depends on the age of the kids.  Chess is good for almost any age group.  Basic critical thinking riddles, pattern recognition and deductive reasoning games are made for quite young children.  Later on they can learn formal logic too.  Do you teach math or language arts?  There's rhetoric as well: only a couple of rhetorical skills are taught in language classes today but kids are exposed to rhetorical manipulation all day long via advertisements, news media and classroom textbooks.  The more they can recognize those devices and use them themselves, the easier they find it to analyze what they're being told rationally. 

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limitgov replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 12:05 PM

i teach 12, 13, 14 yr olds computers.  i have alot of freedom to develop my own lesson plans. 

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Clayton replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 12:30 PM

:\

There is a lot to be said for Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic (the Trivium) but note that a) there have been a lot of new fields that need to be added (the so-called Quadrivium and so on) to these and b) these were classically "secondary" education topics - these were considered very advanced topics, which they are. I believe it actually requires a certain degree of basic maturity before a child is capable of thinking on the level required for serious Logic, Geometry, and so on.

So, primary education should be focused on imparting this maturity. A great deal of that actually has to do with manners and decorum. Kids today are basically untaught in these areas and act like it. They do not know the difference between "ought" and "peer pressure" - the only incentive they ever experience to abridge their urges is that it might not be "cool" with other kids their same age. In other words, we have a system where 7-year-olds are the only thing teaching 7-year-olds how to behave. Brilliant.

I think that stories are the most natural and powerful way for the human mind to absorb new information, even technical information. However, I think that primary education needs to consist of a lot of story-reading (sometimes by the teacher/tutor himself in order to role-model good rhetoric skills) whose purpose is to a) prepare the child's mind for the "landscape of discussion" which he will be encountering in his future studies, i.e. the Greco-Roman myths, classical history, fairy tales, (worthwhile) morality tales, and so on and b) impart useful lessons in behavior and sow a desire to attain maturity within the child.

Manual activities, outdoor play time and unstructured play time with peers are also hugely important to children, developmentally. Regimentation destroys a child's spirit, the development of which is the whole goal of formal education. Our role models are horrible in this regard - as a rule, the Elites raise their children in brutally regimented and inhuman ways. I think this is one of those cases where the Hippies were closer to the truth than the Establishment has ever been.

Another missing piece of the puzzle is observing elders. Children have few, if any, opportunities to observe their elders in action. In olden times, elders might gather around a fire to tell stories, discuss local gossip, pass along foreign news, and so on. Young adults listened and might speak when spoken to but otherwise kept quiet . Children might look on but weren't even formally "allowed"... the privilege of joining the adults as a peer was something that had to be earned by shedding childishness and adopting the serious mantle of an adult.

Today, our media beams out 24/7 this picture of children-as-automatic-peers-with-their-parents-and-all-other-adults. Mouthing off, smartassery, are laudable proofs of a child's inherent wittiness, not shameful displays of misbehavior. While this is irritating to any adult who encounters it in real life, the primary losers are the children themselves, as they are stunted in their development by the lack of any goal to mature toward. Their infantile parents and the other juvenile adults in their lives are no models of maturity, nor are the children excluded from any kind of participation in adult affairs on pain of maturing.

I think that the "ideal" model (there is no ideal, I mean this something like an "average child destined to take over his fathers' business", for example... someone who will need a fair amount of academic education) would be to accomplish most of the primary education by what is today called middle school... around 10-12 years old. After this, the child should be capable of mature participation in serious educational activities and be a fully active participant in his own mental development. By the time the child reaches 16-18 years old, he should have absorbed a great deal of the Quadrivium and he should especially be taught with the rigor of a classical education during these formative years. If he is going on to collegiate work, he should then accomplish what used to be called "liberal arts" education for the first two years and then move on to his specialization in the last two years.

Most school - even college - is dragged out beyond necessity and could be accomplished in much shorter time, depending on the needs and desires of the parents and the child. So, I think the above case describes the "child of a wealthy family", someone destined to be an heir, for example. But I think the middle class will tend to gravitate toward more affordable, "practical" education where a trade is imparted as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is why I think we need to bring back the apprenticeship system that was destroyed by unions in the 20th century.

For someone who is going to become a scholar, I think that after the primary, secondary and collegiate education, all education would be fully self-directed. In ancient Alexandria, for example, scholars would offer free lectures as a kind of "advertisement" for their services. If you liked what you heard, you could sign up for one-on-one tutoring. I think we would tend to gravitate back to this sort of model in the upper echelons of academic learning. Private patronage would return. The thing to keep in mind is that very advanced study is, almost by definition, useless except to impart that knowledge to other individuals who will want to impart it to other individuals, etc. The idea of a "physicist" is, I think, a modern absurdity. There are very few people who really understand the sciences of physics and most others are just tenured professors or salaried laboratory aides. If all those people had to make their own way solely on the basis of the actual marketability of their skills, I think we'd have a lot more short-order cooks at fast-food joints.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 12:36 PM

I don't think a person who's between the ages of 16 and 18 should be referred to as a "child".

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Clayton replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 12:43 PM

@Auto: He is clearly not paying his own way, so he is his parents' child. And yes, I agree, adolescence is another modern absurdity. It is just another part of the process of infantilization.

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AJ replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 1:40 PM

limitgov:
What lessons would you create to teach kids how to think?

Learning to thinking clearly is "simply" a matter of unfailingly diligent mental hygiene.

  • Don't mix strong emotions with intellectual thinking (this is basic)
  • Keep your identity small
  • Identify all the unseen premises
  • Don't assume (especially, never assume you can't understand something)
  • HARD but indispensible: Avoid the myriad traps that words create through their vagueness - especially equivocation-based errors. This means always relentlessly seek out clearer and clearer definitions for all strategic terms upon which an argument rests. 

The master key that unlocks all of the above is to divorce your intellectual thinking from your social signaling and the authority structure of society. This means way more than just demanding sources! Here's a quote I liked regarding authority:

modern fyziks:
Authority is so deeply ingrained in our psyches that its effects are extremely subtle. People think they are not submitting to authority if they question what the teacher tells them, but the real trick is much more insidious: there's an intellectual attitude the teacher has that the students fails to question, or even notice. 

It's not so much only that you believe in black holes, but that you view them as something to believe or disbelieve in the first place. Not so much that you believe a line is made of points, but that you let the constant equivocation among different definitions of "point" slide. It's not so much that you accept E=mc^2, but that you go along with the reification of the word "energy" without batting an eye. 

Even the rebel cannot escape. They rebel against the church, but they never lose the religious thinking habits.

To escape is like peeling away the layers of an onion. First you stop believing in the facts the authority figure is claiming, and you fancy yourself a rebel. Next you reject their theories or school of thought, believing yourself now truly independent. Then you reject their entire endeavor as fundamentally broken and set out on your own, thinking yourself fully free from authority. 

Eventually, if you're lucky, you shake that lingering habit that you learned from the top intellectual charlatans, that of being loose with definitions. Finally you see the authority bound up in how society treats words themselves, realize not to ask what a word means but how it could be usefully defined, stop trying to prove definitions, and even embrace visual explanations when possible.

Though most will find the anti-mainstream physics examples bizarre, similar examples could be made regarding the errors of the statist attitudes of political scientists or mainstream economists. The key is that it is not merely wrong facts you have to watch out for, but the positive social association with careless thinking and language-usage habits that comes from listening to a revered authority figure make a bad argument that sounds very good.

For the child, then, the best way not to get them mired in the bad thinking habits of authorities is probably to not present anyone to the child as an authority; each person must rise or fall on his or her own coherence and clarity of explanation. No teacher or famous dead dude is any better than a random forum poster or a friend on the playground unless they can make a case clearly and have good mental hygiene habits.

Beyond that, all there is to do is let their natural curiosity bloom.

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Clayton:
Another mssing piece of the puzzle is observing elders. Children have few, if any, opportunities to observe their elders in action. In olden times, elders might gather around a fire to tell stories, discuss local gossip, pass along foreign news, and so on. [...]

I would like to add that children also do not observe their parents at work. One hardly ever sees parents bring their children to the office; why would they?Children ought to be having fun with their friends and then mature in college to become good corporate citizens when they are older. Compare this to family-owned restaurants where children often help clean tables, sweep the floor, etc. Later, they enter college and perhaps earns degrees in accounting and later take over the family business.

To paraphrase Marc Faber: We're all doomed, but that doesn't mean that we can't make money in the process.
Rabbi Lapin: "Let's make bricks!"
Stephan Kinsella: "Say you and I both want to make a German chocolate cake."

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12 and 13 yr olds need things to be broken down.  Big time. 

I was thinking maybe doing some opinion vs facts.

I might devise some activity where they read through multiple statements and distinguish which ones are facts and which ones are opinions.

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Clayton replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 4:05 PM

Not bad.

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h.k. replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 5:34 PM

Give them a website link to Mises.org, of course. :D

 

 

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Nielsio replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 7:35 PM

Fantastic post AJ. Mind if I loosely repost on my blog?

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If you havent already....

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
"The sweetest of minds can harbor the harshest of men.”

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Oct 2 2012 10:03 PM

limitgov:

 

can you give me examples of what you would actually have the students do?

keep in mind all of my students have access to a computer in front of them.

Well, I think just working with categorical syllogisms will go a long way, especially with the age of your students. Logic has progressed far beyond the syllogism, but you can do a lot with them, and they are straightforward enough. Couple that with logical fallacies and real world examples, and you're good to go. The best part is, you don't have to go ahead and try to point out a politician lying about some fact, you can just look to examples of problems with their logic. And of course it doesn't have to be politicians. It could be anyone.

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Despite some important contributions I feel you are all missing a very important point: men will only think critically if they want to (e.g. see reason too). Making students do logical fallacy hunter and general logic training will only succeed in the students percieving the "How to Think" lessons the same as all others such as History, Geography and Maths: a means to achieving a good mark so that the teachers like me and so do my parents; the far sighted ones may think they will have better future job prospects. The graduates from these lessons will know as much about logic as the graduates from history lessons know about history; they'll know enough to get a good mark but will have a superficial understanding and won't transfer these skills into the rest of their life.

Essentially people don't have a high value on truth (concieved either as correspondance or coherence). One could blame institutional schooling as having a perverse incentive structure and/or postmodernity amongst others. But if you want kids to start thinking critically you'll have to start with their interests rather than a set logic course.

As Clayton children particularly like stories, as do adults, so a way of proceeding could be to show a film or a TV episode of a programme which the kids like or you think they will. Then ask them who are the good characters (or those to whom we are to indentify with) and evil ones and what makes us see them that way. You can also ask questions of truth- how does this film see reality? For example Christopher Nolan's The Prestige sees reality as pretty much an illusion whereas David Lynch's Mulholland Drive sees it as cyclical.

Essentially you ask what does the film say is truth or falsehood, good or evil and beautiful or ugly. Obviously it's best to start asking what they liked what they didn't but its a universal rule that people love talking about subjects they like with others they deem worthy of the discussion. Basically you use stories as a way into thinking about the big questions. Once they are interested in doing this they will start thinking more critically and reading more widely. I have never had any formal logic training (which is quite evident some may say but anyway) yet I would consider myself to be able to think critically. The main reason for this I think was because my mother is and was very interested in certain subjects, particualrly archaeology and history, so being attentive to what is true and seeing the world as someone that was interesting and worthy of study was passed to me.

If the film/TV option is not possible playing board games focuses the mind. Chess has been mentioned but it would general be considered as "uncool" and boring. There are a whole host of games such as Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico and 7 Wonders amongst others which compels players to seek out the optimal strategy and have a small luck element. It may be how many resources to purchase or produce or how many workers to alot to farming. This may not sound that fun but they really are. If you want to get inot board games www.dicetower.com is an excellent place to start. Unlike computer games most sophisticated board games require quite  a bit of mental effort.

The atoms tell the atoms so, for I never was or will but atoms forevermore be.

Yours sincerely,

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Clayton replied on Thu, Oct 4 2012 2:45 AM

@Physiocrat: I agree on the board games as well as the cruciality of valuing truth for its own sake as an aspect of maturity.

I want to throw in a plug for computers because I think they are the future of education. YouTube, TED, Khan Academy, enthusiast sites, tutoring software (think typing, language, etc.), puzzle games, even adventure games ... all of these exercise the "brain muscle" and really challenge the individual. Even the much-maligned point-and-shoot games can provide a vehicle for conveying good stories (can't think of any off the top of my head, but I will note that games often have plots and characters every bit as complex as a movie... Resident Evil is a good example of a game that was adapted to a movie, though I don't suppose the story conveys any message in particular besides... when you see an infected, blood-covered person lurching toward you, blow them away or GTFO!!!!

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AJ replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 2:22 AM

Nielsio:

Fantastic post AJ. Mind if I loosely repost on my blog?

Thanks! Sure, anything I write is freely repostable with or without attribution, edited or unedited, for profit or non, etc.

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You guys should see yaymath.org

the way he teaches his class actually seems like the people there want to learn math (or at least thats how i percieve it).

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Walden replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 2:20 PM

Children already know how to think. It's in the process of school socialization that they develop the reflexive authority based view of truth.

It's perfectly obvious that the validity of a statement should be held on its own merit as this is demonstrated in the course of living, first through normal life experience and through the relationship with the family. It is biologically valuable for authority to be there in a child's early years, but children instinctively seek agency as they are able.

It is only the recent invention of the schoolmaster-student dynamic that the wires of fear and thought, and therewith survival, have been crossed as the urgency of life has been replaced with an artificial scaricity of autonomy in the school house. 

I do not reject the value of learning logic, but it's a sorry antidote to smother kids with logic games when the faculty for genius is crushed in the process. Trying to noodle ones way out of the statist paradigm by making it a tad bit better is counterproductive if not outright self-destructive.

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check out the http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com/ its pretty easy stuff.helps to demonstrate peoples own natural  bias.great introduction  to logic reason.i think the kids would love the bits on back masking and conspiracies.

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Many have already alluded to the natural inquisitiveness of children and how only a public run education system could deter such natural curiosity. I will add a few comments of how I practice education with my two sons and in the classroom, but this is only my opinion…and to each their own. I will start with the classroom.

 

As some here may know, I teach college mathematics and run a website called Hands on Math . I truly believe that as mathematics becomes further and further separated from applications, the more trivial their answers become to students. Math, as a subject, is rooted in mans desire to answer natural phenomena. Only recently has it become void of this. In fact, even students who do relatively well in mathematics tend to still do horribly in application type problems (in my classroom, word problems tend to have less than a 40% pass rate). Why is this? Because the math education community has dismissed application problems as a benchmark for subject mastery. Even the textbooks shove word problems to the end of the practice problem sets. With this being said, my advice for helping your students develop the ability to think (in a math classroom) would be to close the gap between the trivial and the valuable math by rooting everything in an application problem. If you want to teach percentages, send your students on a classroom date and have them calculate the tip. If you want to teach area of a circle, have them calculate the blast radius of a fire cracker. I’m not promising record breaking state-test scores, but at least you won’t have to compete with boredom and you will assuredly peak their curiosity.

 

As for how I raise my own two boys to think, I use stories. I may tell upwards of 10 stories a day dealing with everything from escaping a volcano to how to better treat others. My boys love them, they are a great tool for their curiosity and they learn. Story telling dates back longer than written language. It is how our ancestors learned.

Read until you have something to write...Write until you have nothing to write...when you have nothing to write, read...read until you have something to write...Jeremiah 

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Clayton replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 7:12 PM

I may tell upwards of 10 stories a day

How??? I sometimes try to put things in allegory form for my kids but I always struggle. Are there some "quick tips" or "cheater templates" I can use to help with this?

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@ Clayton

My oldest is 4, so it will be different depending on age (I started telling stories when he turned 1, but they were more like nursery rhymes).

 

All my stories involve my son Sebastian (or my other son) as the main character. Sometimes he is the hero sometimes not. Over time you get a feel for the types of stories he likes-- as they will become inattentive quickly if you are boring them. In the beginning I found that I had to make them snappy from the start, for example,

 

“So there he was, Sebastian was next to kick in kickball, the whole game revolved around this kick…”   

 

From here we might make him kick the winning kick but notice another boy on the other team crying and complaining. The theme might be how to loose with dignity. But I never say what the theme is; I just base the story around it.

 

Another story might be about how he and his friends were lost in the woods and how they learned to survive by building a fire, keeping warm and signaling for help. You can use these stories to teach them things like how not to talk to strangers or how to call 911 or even remember their address.

 

You can also involve your child in the story telling, like making them a general and you the captain and asking should we fire the archers first or send in the cavalry.   

 

It doesn’t matter if you stumble in coming up with something. Just go with it and they will love it. Start out short, maybe one a night. Then it will be two, etc. Soon you can find all sorts of things to fit into stories. I love throwing in some off the wall concept like a black hole while he travels in space, I will make it really mysterious and tell him that their very secretive. He might have so many questions about black holes at the end of your story that you turn on youtube and watch a 10 min clip. Best of luck!

 

 

Read until you have something to write...Write until you have nothing to write...when you have nothing to write, read...read until you have something to write...Jeremiah 

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One way to teach kids how not to think is to indoctrinate them with religion at an early age. I remember when I was six years old, my father "introduced me to God." He told me of earth's creation and heaven and hell. Then I asked my dad, "who created God?" He snapped back at me and told me to shut up.

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AJ replied on Mon, Oct 21 2013 6:07 AM

Walden:
Children already know how to think. It's in the process of school socialization that they develop the reflexive authority based view of truth.

Great point. Children don't have all those adult bad habits. The same applies somewhat to certain people who don't identify as intellectuals. Since they don't place themselves in that category they often don't pick up the habits and instead end up "going it alone" in their free-time musings, sometimes coming up with insights that elude many intellectuals (as do children, on occasion).

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