April 20, 2006

Power to the people

The other day Susan at Chicken Spaghetti posted a link for a School Library Journal article on questioning authority, with the quote, "Kids need to be skeptical of the curriculum. It’s the only way to develop a balanced view of the world." Which of course was like dangling a chocolate truffle in front of me. So I hopped over to read "Question Authority" by Glenn DeVoogd and was...sorely disappointed. Too disappointed even to complain about it here, which is why I was delighted to see that Horn Book editor-in-chief Roger Sutton over at Read Roger (and please, read Read Roger) decided to question authority by questioning "Question Authority":
it seems that DeVoogd isn't so much interested in getting kids to think for themselves as he is in getting them to see the world the same way he does. ... [I]f I were in charge of the curriculum, the first thing the kids would be learning is that irony is always waiting to bite you in the ass.
DeVoogd starts off well:
Teaching kids to second-guess everything they read isn’t easy—in fact, it’s downright controversial. After all, our educational culture promotes sitting back and soaking up information. Sure, it’s easier to continue thinking that teaching is just about kids, books, and skills. But it’s a lot more than that—it’s about teaching them to be analytical thinkers. It’s our duty to teach kids to ask serious questions about the authority of the words they read. Our schools need to teach that being skeptical of the curriculum is acceptable."
(Which was one of my concerns about the library list situation in California. But I digress.) But then he veers off toward his real destination, undesirable "social and political influences," by which he means political correctness. And takes a flying leap toward his conclusion: "Ultimately, the goal of critical literacy is to create a more equitable, just world." When, in fact, true critical thinking is not taking a sentence like that at face value. Because ultimately, the goal of critical literacy, and responsible school librarians, is to create thoughtful people who ask questions, regardless of what the answers are. And they're not limited to asking questions about the low points in American history, either. A true student of logic, enriched with a lively curiosity, a healthy skepticism, and solid research skills, turns his or her gaze to science, mathematics, literature and language, and the arts, as well. I also hope that by the time my kids are ready to graduate from our little farm school, they'll understand that sometimes a cow is just a cow.

P.S. Like Roger, I didn't care much for DeVoogd bibliography (sample item, Developing Critical Consciousness in an Age of Oppression), so here are some other suggestions, for fifth graders on up to parents and other adults, with the proviso that I haven't read or used them all. A wander through The Critical Thinking Press and Prufrock Press (no, your child doesn't need to be gifted and talented to make use of their products, just bright and motivated) websites yields all sorts of titles.

A Case of Red Herrings: Solving Mysteries through Critical Questioning, published by Critical Thinking Press

Critical Thinking series, by Anita Harnadek, published by Critical Thinking Press

Prufrock Press (formerly Dandy Lion Logic) books by Bonnie Risby, such as Logic Countdown, Logic Liftoff, Logic Orbit, Logic Safari

Mind Benders series, published by Critical Thinking Press

Cranium Crackers series, by Anita Harnadek, published by Critical Thinking Press

Critical Thinking in United States History series, by Kevin O'Reilly, published by Critical Thinking Press; a friend has used this with her kids and recommends the series highly. To me it seems like a terrific substitute for DeVoogd's own volume.

The Art of Reasoning by David Kelley; an introductory college logic text that can be used at the high school level

Philosophy: Themes and Thinkers by J.W. Phelan, published by Cambridge University Press

Critical Thinking: An Introduction by Alec Fisher, published by Cambridge University Press

Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, published by Oxford University Press

Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students by Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee

Everything's an Argument: With Readings by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz

Evidence by Robert P. Newman and Dale R. Newman

An Introduction to Rhetorical Communication: A Western Historical Perspective by James C. McCroskey

Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny

The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction by Wayne Booth

The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth

And a fun tidbit, for you or your high school student:

Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer, with a foreward by Stephen Jay Gould; Shermer is the director of The Skeptics Society

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