Critical thinking, how we can start teaching this to young people

There is a lot in Scientific American magazine that I find very helpful. When they stick to genuine science I get much benefit. It does seem to be rather vulnerable to “pop-science” and trying to influence for such discredited organizations as BLM, “woke theory”.

As a Christian pastor I’m often told that there are areas that I’m not welcome to discuss. Yet someone such a group as Scientific American can make baseless assertions about issues that it’s kind of obvious they are trying to make a political statement on, well, that’s ok.

I am going to quote at length an article in the February 2022 issue pp 38-40, that I think is very discerning on the issue of “critical thinking” and especially as it applies to younger adolescents. This article was written by Melinda Wenner Moyer. I am quoting kind of subjectively.

“The researchers also found that less than 20 percent of high schoolers seriously questioned spurious claims in social media, such as a Facebook post that said images of strange=looking flowers, supposedly near the site of a nuclear power plant accident in Japan, proved that dangerous radiation levels persisted in the area. When college students in the survey looked at a Twitter post touting a poll favoring gun control, more than two thirds failed to note that the liberal antigun groups behind the poll could have influenced the data.

Disinformation campaigns often directly go after young users, steering them toward misleading content. A 2018 Wall Street Journal investigation found that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which offers personalized suggestions about what users should watch next, is skewed to recommend videos that are more extreme and far-fetched than what the viewer started with. For instance, when researchers searched for videos using the phrase ‘lunar eclipse’ they were steered toward a video suggesting that Earth is flat. YouTube is one of the most popular social media sites among teens: After Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Information and Library Science, spent time searching for videos on YouTube and observed what the algorithm told her to watch next, she suggested that is was ‘one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.’

One tool that schools can use to deal with this problem is called media literacy education. The idea is to teach kids how to evaluate and think critically about the messages they receive and to recognize falsehoods masquerading as truth. ..”

“…A growing number of students are being taught some form of media literacy in college, but that is ‘way, way too late to begin this kind of instruction, says Howard Schneider, executive director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. When he began teaching college students years ago, he found that ‘they came with tremendous deficits, and they were already falling into very bad habits.'”

“…there are very few data showing the best way to teach children how to tell fact from fiction.”

“Most media literacy approaches ‘begin to look thin when you ask, ‘Can you show me the evidence?’ says Sam Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University… There are factions of educational researchers behind each method, says Renee Hobbs, director of the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island, and ‘each group goes out of its way to diss the other.’ These approaches have not been compared head to head and some have only small studies supporting them. Like online media sources themselves, it is hard to know which ones to trust…”

“…Schneider’s Stony Brook program and the nonprofit, Washington, D.C. based News Literacy Project, teach students to discern the quality of the information in part by learning how responsible journalism works…”

“Yet some media literacy scholars doubt the efficacy of these approaches. Hobbs, for instance wrote a 2010 paper arguing that these methods glorify journalism, ignore its many problems and do little to instill critical thinking skills. ‘All that focus on the ideals of journalism is mere propaganda if it is blind to the realities of contemporary journalism, where partisan politics and smear fests are the surest way to build audiences,’ she stated.”

“Other approaches teach students methods for evaluating the credibility of news and information sources, in part by determining the goals and incentives of those sources. They teach students to ask: Who created the content and why? And what do other sources say? But these methods are relatively new and have not been widely studied…”

…”Mihailidis and his team interviewed the heads of all major organizations that are part of the National Media Literacy Alliance, which works to promote media literacy education. “We are finding, repeatedly, that many of the ways in which they support schools and teachers – resources, guidelines, best practices, etcetera – are not studied in much of a rigorous fashion.’ he says…”

…Working with the Poynter Institute and the Local Media Association and with support from (a charity founded by the media giant”), Wineburg and his team have created a civic online reasoning course that teaches students to evaluate information by reading laterally. The effects so far look promising. In a field experiment involving 40.000 high school students in urban public health districts, Wineburg and his group found that students who took the class became better able to evaluate web sites and the credibility of online claims, such as FaceBook posts, compared with students who did not take the class…”

…According to educational psychologist William Perry of Harvard University, students go through various stages of learning. First children are black-and-white thinkers – they think there are right answers and wrong answers. They then develop into relativists, realizing that knowledge can be contextual. This stage can be dangerous, however. It is the one where, as Russell notes, people can come to believe there is no truth. Ashley adds that when students think everything is a lie, they also think there is no point in engaging with difficult topics.

With news literacy education, the goal is to get students to the next level, ‘to that place where you can start to see and appreciate the fact that the world is messy, and that’s okay,’ Ashley says. ‘You have these fundamental approaches to gathering knowledge that you can accept, but you still value uncertainty, and you value ongoing debates about how the world works.’ Instead of driving students to apathy, the goal is to steer them toward awareness and engagement…'”

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