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Teaching Others To Think And Reason Logically--and Trust Themselves


Ameen
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Hello, everyone!

 

When I belonged to a Christian cult, the late Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, I bought into a lot of illogical reasoning and dogma since I did not have proper reasoning skills. I was raised in a mainstream Protestant church where reasoning was not part of Sunday School, and I thus went from that to the cult.

 

As a person who prizes reason and logic above all else these days, I always try to slip some thinking and reasoning skills into my classes. I'll discuss two of the many things I do here, and I'd love to hear from others--non-teachers as well as teachers--who have their own ways of showing people how to think one-on-one, in groups, on Internet sites like this one, or whatever.

 

Since I teach ESL (English as a Second Language), carrying out such activities is not always easy. When I teach very advanced students who are taking regular undergraduate or graduate classes in addition to ESL, there is no problem--but I have to come up with creative ways to slip in logical thinking in classes with lower level students whose English is limited.

 

In a class with high beginners (not absolute beginners) this semester, we are working on simplified folktales and legends. After discussing vocabulary items like "exaggeration/exaggerating," "tall tale," and "The story grows," I did a PowerPoint presentation in which I explained how legends are created.

 

From the presentation:

 

The real story: One man rescued another man.

 

-- I show a picture of a man pulling another out of the sea and add items to it per my narrative --

 

In 100 years people will say… One man rescued another man during a storm.

 

In 200 years people will say… One man rescued another man during a storm. There was a shark in the water.

 

In 500 years people will say… One man rescued another man during a storm. There were four sharks in the water.

 

In 1,000 years people will say… An incredibly strong man rescued another man during a storm. There were four sharks in the water.

 

In 2,000 years people will say… A giant man with super strength rescued another man during a storm. There were four sharks in the water.

 

In 3,000 years people will say… A giant man with super strength rescued another man during a storm. There were 1,000 sharks in the water, but the giant’s friend from another planet helped him with magic.

 

Now it's your turn. What will people say in 10,000 years? In groups, add as much as you can to this story.

 

After we do this exercise and laugh through the creative versions of the stories that students come up with, we discuss ways in which unbeliveable stories can hurt people. Students usually come up with TV commercials, bad medicine, fake doctors who want to make money, politicians, the way some countries or groups talk about history... and certain kinds of religion.

 

If I brought up religion in this context, I might get in trouble; my students are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Shinto... and atheist. But when students bring it up, I can go with it ("some kinds of religion"). I can almost see the wheels turning in a few heads.

 

With more advanced students...

 

I lie to my class. I tell them that our Founding Fathers based the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on the writings of the lost continent of Atlantis. I then spew forth utter nonsense and even write an 'example' of the Atlantean language on the board: karooka kawakka karinga karoopago. When I tell them to copy down this example, they scribble away dutifully.

 

Sometimes a student objects, saying that this cannot possibly be true. (Such students will go far in life!) More often, however, I can have the class going for ten or fifteen minutes. Everyone believes me.

 

At that point I stop and say that everything I have told them is a lie. Students are stunned. Teachers don't lie.

 

Heck, of course we lie! We then have a discussion about why they believed me: I am the authority figure; I am a nice guy; I seem intelligent; I speak well; teachers are supposed to give true information... Yet, I lied.

 

We then talk about things we read in textbooks and newspapers, things we see on TV... And the word propaganda comes up. In a good class, students will talk about how some people lie, exaggerate, and quote biased references to sell viewpoints and get people to join political parties, religious (or non-religious) institutions, social cliques, and so on.

 

The bottom line (as I present it to them after they have had a chance to say whatever they wish): Don't believe it because a nice guy tells you. I tell my classes that I will be lying more often, and that they have to decide when to believe me and when not to believe me. I want them to have critical minds when listening to others.

 

I also tell them to trust themselves. There are of course many correct things said by people and found in print, but they have to find their own beliefs themselves--and they can change their views as many times as they wish. Life, I tell them, is sometimes about living with uncertainty.

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I think you're lying. After all, you're an admitted liar and who would lie about something like that?

 

mwc

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The real story: One man rescued another man.

 

-- I show a picture of a man pulling another out of the sea and add items to it per my narrative --

 

In 100 years people will say… One man rescued another man during a storm.

 

In 200 years people will say… One man rescued another man during a storm. There was a shark in the water.

 

In 500 years people will say… One man rescued another man during a storm. There were four sharks in the water.

 

In 1,000 years people will say… An incredibly strong man rescued another man during a storm. There were four sharks in the water.

 

In 2,000 years people will say… A giant man with super strength rescued another man during a storm. There were four sharks in the water.

 

In 3,000 years people will say… A giant man with super strength rescued another man during a storm. There were 1,000 sharks in the water, but the giant’s friend from another planet helped him with magic.

 

Now it's your turn. What will people say in 10,000 years? In groups, add as much as you can to this story.

 

 

Long ago when sharks ruled the planet, two men decided to leave the sea and seek safer places to live. We know this is true because here we are.

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I think wat Fuego says is true because I feel in my heart it is right. I have the Witness in my Spirit to tell me it's true. Sure, I can use reason to confirm it, but reason is secondary to and supportive of that inner testimony! ;)

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I like those ideas! I teach comp I, and I do an ethics unit. The essay they have to write for this section is about the exterior sources that influenced their beliefs. I don't allow them to write argumentative papers, since they'll do that the rest of their college careers and arguing for something only makes you more ingrained in that mindset. I ask them to pick one issue, summarize all sides of the conflict, and to state which position they take. Then they spend the rest of the paper writing about HOW they came to that idea. Usually this includes a lot of family, church, peers, media, or intense personal experiences that relate to the issue (like, "my uncle was gay so I changed my mind on homosexual marriage"). Then they explore the potential problems with believing something is right or wrong without actually considering it for themselves. I have individual conferences with all of them during the drafting stage so we can discuss their progress and I can attempt to steer them back on course if they've devolved into a simple argument. This was really successful last semester, although this semester they seem to have a hard time grasping it. I'll see their first drafts on Tuesday... hoping for the best. The Ethics unit and essay was overwhelmingly their favorite, and I had a few students realize that their reasons for their positions weren't actually stable at all. One girl enrolled in an ethics course the next semester because it raised so many questions for her.

 

It's stunning to hear students actually begin to question what their parents and church have told them for the first time. It makes me feel so powerful, hehe. The funny thing is, I was doing this while my husband was still a youth pastor. I used to joke with him that I was undoing all his work when they went to college.

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Kudos to you, Prysm! You may never know which of your students you ended up helping enormously, but somewhere down the road I am sure some of them will make better life decisions because they learned to think in your class. :)

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