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Kids need fewer facts, more crap detection

Great thoughts on instilling a challenging mindset in children:

We trust experts because there is no way that we can learn everything that we need to know to understand every issue that affects us. We put our trust in those who offer good work. But how do we decide who those experts are? Without the ability to discern who is trustworthy, people increasingly rely on pedigree, place trust in experts whose conclusions align with pre-existing beliefs, or reject experts completely. But don’t take my word for it.

Polls show that Americans’ hostility toward government is growing. In March of 1998, the Pew Research Center reported:

Americans continue to distrust the government, although there are signs that hostility toward government has begun to diminish… The national mood and trust are both up from the mid-1990s, but still just 20% of Americans are highly satisfied with the state of the nation and only 34% basically trust the government…Public desire for government services and activism has remained nearly steady over the past 30 years. And distrust of government is not fostering a disregard for the nation’s laws, eroding patriotism or discouraging government service. About as many people would recommend a government job to a child today as would have in the early 1960s, when there was much less distrust of government.

But by April 2010, as reported by NPR:

Pew surveys dating from 1997 show that an average of about 55 percent of Americans typically express frustration about the federal government, with the exception of a temporary spike in trust after Sept. 11. In the current survey, 56 percent say they feel frustrated by the federal government. The big difference this time, according to the Pew survey, is the growing numbers who expressed “intense anti-government views.” The proportion of Americans who say they are angry has doubled since 2000. Now at 21 percent, it tops the previous high of 20 percent in 2006. ”The percentage who are angry is still small,” Kohut says, “but it’s twice as much as it was back in the late 1990s.

Research published in September 2010 shows that Americans trust researchers, but only those whose results align with their beliefs. (An article/podcast on the paper here.) Where is the critical evaluation of the research – of ourselves? While in 2007, a press release* from the University of Wisonsin Madison cautioned, “When it comes to forming opinions on controversial scientific issues, Americans show a strong deference to the views of the scientific community”, just three years later (as reported by Yale University) a survey that compared Americans’ trust in experts between 2008 and 2010 found:

…lower public trust in a variety of institutions and leaders, including scientists. For example, Americans’ trust in the mainstream news media as a reliable source of information about global warming declined by 11 percentage points, television weather reporters by 10 points and scientists by 8 points. They also distrust leaders on both sides of the political fence.

So I teach my son to trust me, yes. He trusts my answers. I am his authority. But I teach him to evaluate what I say. I want him to trust me because I earn it, not because I demand it. So I show him if he doesn’t understand. I provide evidence, and I tell him when I don’t know. I love his “whys,” though they never seem to end, because I feel that each one is an opportunity to teach. If I succeed as a parent, I won’t just teach the facts – hell the facts change – I’ll teach him critical evaluation. And when the time comes when he says, “Are you sure about that? Where did you get that information? Let me take a look,” I will know that I’m doing my job.

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* http://www.news.wisc.edu/13734_