Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tools for Finding the Truth

In a time when journalists are employing terms such as “falsehood” and “unsubstantiated” while phrases like “fake news” are simultaneously being used regarding the work of such journalists, our evaluative thinking capacities are called upon to sort through it all in an attempt to make sense of our world. The current climate underscores the need to question answers rather than simply seek to answer questions. It is not enough for educators to help students achieve mastery over content. This would be like simply handing over the fish in the popular "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime" quotation. Students need to be equipped with the thinking tools to take with them into the various environments of lifelong learning they will encounter outside of the classroom.

Good science education, for example, entails not just sharing facts and formulas, but teaching how to isolate variables and sort correlation from causation. Good writing instruction involves not just a focus on mechanics, but also on appropriately supporting one’s claims. Good social studies lessons include consideration of various primary sources. It is the ability to think critically, perhaps more than anything else, that distinguishes a well-educated student from one with access to Google. Therefore, it should be a priority for educators to cultivate critical thinkers.

Humility is one important tool in the quest for truth. An awareness of our own natural biases and a comfort in acknowledging how much we don’t know are crucial to being able to learn effectively. A teacher who says, “I’m not sure” may be, rather than somehow lacking, actually modeling the valuing of truth over ego, an important lesson in and of itself. The more aware we are of our cognitive and informational shortcomings, the better able we are to counter them.

It is important to be ever in touch with what we know, what we don’t know, and what tools we have at our disposal for accessing and analyzing information. Educators are in key positions to not just inform but to teach how to learn. Even the best fisherman will never get all the fish in the sea, but that should not stop him from fishing, and with the best available equipment.

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