We are living in an era where it is becoming very difficult to determine what is true and what is not. It used to be that everything on the internet was totally reliable and true; well, maybe some of it was.
In 2005 Steven Colbert coined the term ‘Truthiness”. Truthiness is “truth that won’t be held back by facts.” “You don’t look up truthiness in a book, you look it up in your gut.” At the time Colbert was primarily referring to the infotainment that pretends to be news on FOX, MSNBC and CNN. It is perpetrated by all manner of talking heads who say whatever they feel like to get a rise out of their audiences, regardless of what the facts indicate. Often with opinion or made up ‘facts’ being expressed repeatedly which gives it the perception of truth.
Truthiness and spin has always been an issue in politics, with issues and responses being presented to provide a certain perspective that is in favour of the person / party pushing it. It seems to have escalated with the current US presidential primary season. I saw a fact check recently that indicated Donald Trump had lied 71 times in the course of one hour long speech. In fact according to the website Politifact, Trump has some pretty serious issues with the line between fiction and non-fiction. Trump is an extreme example of spin and deception in a modern western democracy. He is not the only one who is guilty of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.Republicans have a tendency towards 'truth that won't be held back by facts.'Click To Tweet
The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter how often or how loudly people point out the omissions, half-truths and outright lies – supporters of Donald Trump still believe their candidate. The same is true of supporters of Rob Ford in Toronto. Rob Ford – former Mayor of Toronto – died this past week as a result of cancer. On the radio this week I heard supporters being interviewed at his funeral, who talked about why he was, in their mind, the best Mayor Toronto has ever had. Their main reason for that assessment? Rob Ford was honest. Honest? This is the man who strongly protested and denied smoking crack while in office as mayor right up until he admitted it was true. He consistently denied every accusation made against him until he admitted it was true. Regardless of the examples of his lies and illegal activities, his supporters still felt he was authentic and continued to believe and believe in him. Often they blamed the so-called ‘lame-stream’ media for attacking him unfairly. He had that truthiness quality and apparently so does Trump.
Fact or Fiction?
I spend quite a bit of time online and have worked in politics so I like to think I have a relatively decent truthiness radar. I am finding it harder and harder these days to pick out what is factually correct with some spin and what is just made up, especially with some of the legislation and comments coming out of the Republican camp in the US. I am, frankly, glad that I don’t live there because I think that my blood would be at a constant state of simmer, always on the verge of boiling over. I’m not sure if that is because of conservative extremism or because I am entering into my ‘GET OFF MY LAWN YOU LITTLE PUNKS’ years.
I recently fell for this story about proposed changes to breastfeeding laws in Texas when it came across my Facebook feed. I think a few years ago I would have questioned a story about a law that allows women of certain breast sizes to breastfeed in public, but not others due to their natural immorality. However, it seemed very plausible that a Republican state representative would propose such a thing, given how determined they are to regulate women’s bodies. Turns out this one was false according to Snopes.
Teaching Kids Critical Thinking Skills
My recent challenges figuring out what is factual and what is not, combined with the sheer amount of fabrication of ‘facts’ floating around in the public sphere these days, got me thinking about how I do my job as a parent and help my kids grow up with the skills to distinguish fact from fiction. It seems like these concerns used to be related to helping kids understand advertising and that TV shows and movies are generally not real. Unless of course we are talking about historical documentaries like Star Wars and ethnocultural educational programs such as those about the Mexican hero Speedy Gonzales.
What is Critical Thinking?
At its core, critical thinking includes the different skills we use to learn how to make decision. It is how we consider an issue, look at and evaluate potential solutions and make use of information to distinguish right from wrong.
5 Tips to Help Kids Learn to Think Critically
- Ask them to explain their reasoning when they make a decision – how did they reach that conclusion? What did they think about and consider on the way to their final choice?
- Explain your own reasons and how you came to a conclusion. Talk to them about the factors and evidence that you considered. Provide examples if needed to ensure that you are clear and they understand.
- Encourage your kids to ask questions. If they don’t understand your logic or don’t agree with your decision, let them know that they are allowed and encouraged to ask for more information (although make sure they understand that ‘Because I Said So! is a totally legit final answer). Likewise, ask them questions to challenge them to provide more detail about their decision-making process.
- Seek alternatives. If they don’t like your decision, ask them for alternative outcomes. When they reach a conclusion ask them what other solutions and ideas they considered. Ask if there were other possibilities that they discarded and why.
- Teach them about biases. We all have biases and perspectives that influence our thinking and decision-making. Understanding those assumptions (e.g. Republicans say the darnedest things) can help us to move through them to look at other perspectives and identify other factors and alternative options in out thinking process.
I need to be more proactive in teaching my kids how to think critically so that 1) they don’t fall for phoney news stories like me; 2) they are more willing to challenge things that don’t seem right and 3) I sharpen up my own critical thinking skills which have become dull under the onslaught of all the ridiculous statements from public figures lately.
What do you do to help your kids think more critically about the information they take in everyday?
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