Socrates was a Greek philosopher who loved conversation with his students. His idea of good teaching was to encourage his students to think for themselves rather than to simply repeat back what they had heard from him or any other teacher. Sounds like a good approach to me!
When we read with our homeschoolers, it’s important to be equipping them with the observational and critical thinking skills that will make them specific and logical thinkers, because this skill will serve them in all arenas for the rest of their lives. While some academic learning requires the memorization of facts, teaching literature is an exciting place to instead focus on the art and skill of critical thinking.
Critical thinking means, in its simplest definition, thinking about thinking. It means challenging assumptions – those of other people and those of your own mind.
I remember seeing graffiti once that said, “Question Authority.” Underneath, some other person with no respect for bathroom walls had written, “What will you do if Authority answers?” As a Christian, I want my children to grow up questioning authority in an appropriate way. Before you decide I’m a heretic who is raising a generation of heretics, allow me to explain.
God loves conversation. He is not made uncomfortable by questions. Over and over again in the Bible we see people who were eager to follow after God who dared to ask Him questions. Our limited human minds, muddled by sin, lack the perfect understanding to always understand God’s wisdom. God invites, even encourages us to question Him when we do not understand. That questioning must be done in an attitude of humility, because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is not a sign of weak faith when we question Him because we TRULY DESIRE to hear His answer.
There are many earthly authorities, and not all of them (perhaps only a very few of them!) are actually right in everything they are saying. My children are growing up with the internet available to them everywhere. Things that are published on the internet appear to speak with authority. I love the joke I saw online recently that said:
“If it’s on the internet, then it must be true.” – George Washington
When I read books with my homeschoolers, I encourage them to observe the material they are reading and to create questions about it. Here are some helpful elements to notice:
* Context of the Genre – What type of writing is this? If I read Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as if it were the same genre as Elie Weisel’s Night, I will be messed-up-in-the-head when I am finished. Students need to begin by understanding what type of book they are reading. Is it fiction? Is it satire? Is it auto-biographical, biographical, well-documented, persuasive…? There are so many varieties, and kids need to be instructed to question first the purpose to which the book was written.
* Context of History – Do they understand a little bit about the time-period in which this was written? Many books are written in reaction to the society in which the author lived and the world events occurring at that time.
* Context of Author’s Life Experience – It takes only a moment to read the “About the Author” section included in so many books. If there isn’t information at-hand in the book, a quick look at a well-documented resource on the internet will yield basic information that helps readers understand a bit about the person who wrote the words in front of them. If an author comes from great personal tragedy, for instance, it helps me as the reader to understand and temper the cynicism or anger with which he may have written.
By helping my students to observe the literature they are reading and think critically about it, I can be much less afraid that their minds will be ruined by exposure to something that is contrary to God’s word. As students grow in wisdom and approach adulthood, it’s important to equip them for thinking critically about the many words that will be spoken to them with authority, genuine or feigned.
And as far as the bathroom graffiti goes, doesn’t it stand to reason that students who question authority in an appropriate manner will RECOGNIZE and RESPECT it when true Authority answers? God loves to reveal truth to those who seek Him!
What are ways you can encourage critical thinking in your homeschool?