TEHRAN – Charles Taliaferro, a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, says example is best way for children to learn “critical thinking”.
“I suggest that the best way for children to learn critical thinking is through examples,” Taliaferro said in an interview with the Tehran Times.
He also said, “A good way for an adult to destroy a child's curiosity would be to tell the child to not ask questions and simply be silent.”\
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What is the importance of the humanities for a society?
A: You are asking this question of a professor in the humanities, so I might have a bias here, but I would like you to consider what a society would be like without its citizens having a solid grounding in the humanities. The humanities include history, philosophy, literature, religious studies and so on. Without an education in the humanities, your people will not have the critical skills to understand themselves in a broad historical context, they will not have the important ability to analyze competing political, economic, and ethical arguments. To be sure, a person who is exclusively trained in the natural sciences and mathematics will have an understanding of history, and views about politics, economics, ethics, and religion. But for a person to assess ethical or religious values and to critically make up one's own mind about the historical significance of some event, one needs more than science and mathematics. Actually, the importance of the humanities comes to light when you realize that without a philosophy of values, you will not have any conception of why we should value math and science. As philosophy has a pervasive presence in the humanities, there is reason to think that without some proficiency in the humanities, the pursuit of science and math will seem groundless or without a clear purpose. I suggest that, while the education of a people in the humanities without significant training in science and math would be a disaster, leaving us in the dark ages, it is also true that training almost exclusively in science and math will be dangerously unstable without some proper basis worked out in the humanities,
Q: What is the relationship between the humanities and critical thinking?
A: Gaining proficiency in the humanities cannot be limited to memorization and an unreflective, passive transmission and receiving of data. Learning how historians of the past or today understand European imperialism is not by itself to practice being an historian. Being an historian, like being a philosopher or being a person skilled in political, economic, and religious studies, necessarily involves critical thinking. For one simply to accept as true history true philosophy, and so on, only on the basis of submission to authority is not sufficient for a person to claim to be a historian, philosopher and so on. Critical thinking can be over done. Taken to an extreme, one would need to criticize criticism. But some critical reflection seems essential for one to participate in the humanities.
Q: How can we teach the humanities to children?
A: In one sense, you cannot avoid children learning from their family, schools and cultures some conceptions of values, history, the meaning of life, and more. This means that it is almost impossible for us to grow and mature without some encounter with the important elements studied through the humanities. To go on to teach the humanities it will be essential for children and adults to develop at least two things: first, a rich understanding of our history or heritage, to appreciate the different ways in which religion, art, and literature can bring to light important truths that challenge us. And, second, it is vital for us to be able to engage in critical dialogue, sharing the reasons why we think such and such a book or argument is brilliant or misguided, and so on.
Q: How can children learn critical thinking?
A: I suggest that the best way for children to learn critical thinking is through examples. A good teacher can be a model for her or his students to aspire to. A crucial condition for an education in critical thinking is safety, both physically and mentally. A good way for an adult to destroy a child's curiosity would be to tell the child to not ask questions and simply be silent. Critical thinking does not, in my view, come easily; it often comes through making mistakes and discovering the need to change one's mind or attitude. This can be humbling. I propose that if teachers can do a convincing job in making children feel safe making mistakes, and, when appropriate, revising or changing their minds, then growth in critical thinking will come about in a healthy, natural, almost irresistible manner. Ideally, there are many reasons why we should hope that a healthy growth in critical thinking is as delightful and rewarding as the healthy growth of persons from girls and boys to women and men.
Charles Taliaferro, professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, is the author of Consciousness and the Mind of God Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, Evidence and Faith; Philosophy and Religion Since the Seventeenth Century, Dialogues About God, Philosophy of Religion, and The Golden Cord; A Short Book on Eternity. He has given lectures at Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, the University of Chicago, Princeton, New York University, and elsewhere.