Teaching Kids What to Think

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The Article

Whenever we talk about schools “getting back to basics” we come back to the three R’s, and certainly they’re desperately needed, especially if people believe they all start with “R”. But I would add more to that list. I think it’s crucial to teach kids how to think, which involves both forming arguments and finding information, though not necessarily in that order.

Yet I don’t believe this is the education system’s main aim. Too often it’s to teach children what to think. We have decided what values we want our society to have, and the only way to bring that about is to make sure kids learn those values in school. This year a grade 7 class north of Belleville did a unit on global warming and the Kyoto Agreement. There was no discussion on how scientists do not agree about the effects, causes or even existence of global warming, or that 4,000 advanced scientists from around the globe have banded together to protest the lack of scientific justification for the Kyoto Protocol. Global warming today is a major debate in both scientific and political circles, but in some classrooms it seems it’s already settled.

But it’s not only science. Back when we lived in Toronto, a nearby Rosedale school spent a week teaching grade one students about the vegan lifestyle, and then another unit learning about gay pride week, even though most of these kids didn’t know what gay was. Parents complained, but nothing was done.

History often falls prey to this trend, too. While it was once taught as if we’re a cheering section in a British football match—with anything that Mother England did being good—it’s now taught as if most of what was done by our illustrious ancestors is somehow suspect, while other countries seem to get a free pass. In both cases it’s very politically tainted. Recently we were studying China, so I went online to find some lessons plans for their “one child policy”. What surprised me was how laudatory many educators were. I can understand the goal of keeping the birth rate down, though I don’t necessarily agree with it, and with China’s looming aging crisis it does seem they acted rashly. But glossing over hundreds of thousands of mass sterilizations, forced late term abortions, and infanticides seems a little, how shall I put it, just plain evil. Yet in today’s educational climate, non-Western countries receive the benefit of the doubt.

Along the same lines, The University of Toronto, with government funding, recently published a series of booklets for use in middle schools giving glowing reports of every country in the world, even the dictatorships. While reading them I came across several interesting “facts”. Did you know that Cuba has complete freedom of religion? It’s too bad those priests and pastors in Castro’s jails haven’t been informed of that. And did you know that after Israel declared independence in May 1948 a civil war broke out? I thought it generally was not called a civil war when five foreign powers invade you. That’s like calling World War II the French Civil War.

And yet, even as I write this, I know many will disagree with me. That’s all right. That’s everybody’s right. But as parents, it’s our role to pass on a moral framework to our children—not the school’s role. That’s why I think some subjects should be avoided, or else both sides need to be equally presented.

While truly gifted and dedicated teachers endeavour to do this, many do not. It’s understandable why. People enter the teaching profession to make the world a better place, and in general it’s a good thing that schools attract this kind of person. The downside, though, is that many teachers may try to promote their versions of right and wrong. When there’s no social consensus, this is dangerous. Even if teachers try to stay on the right side of the line, governments may not, as they make curriculum and textbook decisions that espouse social views that are certainly not shared by all.

What gives schools the right to do this? Why not confine the curriculum to those three R’s, with some computer skills and thinking skills thrown in? These things are factual. About all the rest honest people frequently disagree. When schools intervene and take sides, rather than leaving it to parents, it’s social engineering. And it’s wrong.

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