With the insertion of a new American President that actually wants scientists to be heard and (and to subsequently follow their advice), one can feel the winds of change blowing across the country and to a lesser extent, other countries as well. These breezes are bringing a breath of fresh realism to the people where science is no longer twisted or ignored to fit ideology, but rather it is being recognized as a legitimate source of information from which to base sound decisions.
Many skeptical organizations say that Education is the backbone of their activities, and if that’s true then now is the time for them to move out into the education frontier and start fighting the battles to win the minds of our youngest students. Indeed, critical thinking could be taught in so many fun and creative ways to students in every state and province throughout North America that the mind boggles at the lost opportunities. There is so much that is out there that isn’t being exploited while the ‘woo’ side of the ledger pours money into magical thinking platforms (such as paranormal television shows) that turn youngsters into credulous consumers of the next generation.
Sure, there are some great efforts out there to get into the mind of our younger budding skeptics, but the reach of those efforts is often limited to say the least. What we need is a concerted effort to use the current skeptical organization’s extensive network of intelligent, creative, and entertaining educators in a way that can get the message of critical thinking into the classrooms across the land. What’s even more exciting is that several of the organizations have a neutral position on religious matters that can be parlayed into support for the educational programs in all schools since all we’d be teaching is critical thinking, not humanism or atheism.
With a new administration in the White House that is friendly to science, and some gaping holes in the education aspect of many skeptical outlets, now is the perfect time to put together a comprehensive plan to create permanent networks of smart, effective educators who are willing to donate their time to help insert critical thinking into all aspects of education. Think of what can be accomplished if we have just a few years of kids getting basic critical thinking skills at a young age. A large percentage of those kids are going to use those skills to better the world as they grow up, and indeed they are the future people who are going to ultimately help to put a tighter lid on superstitious belief and dangerous magical thinking (think alternative medicine).
I have three children ages 6, 8 and 10, and my experience in raising them (so far) has taught me a great deal about the power of just a small amount of critical thinking at a young age. By teaching them just a few basic concepts of critical thinking when they were in kindergarten and grade 1 I’ve created three children who are naturally skeptical, critical thinkers. Indeed, every time they hear something that even adults would be credulous about, they approach it from a skeptical point of view. I can’t believe the power just a few suggestions had in shaping their ability to think about the world around them. Imagine what a concerted effort by the skeptical community could do to put a skeptical foot in the door of kids across North America!
Bart Farkas is an active skeptic and is currently working on a book about the history of the JREF challenge.