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Reader Rants: Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires (of ignorance) – thinkc

You know what’s wrong with kids these days? They play their rap and roll music on my lawn*… and I never go out there and teach them about old Chicago Blues… because THEY SHOULD KNOW ABOUT IT DAGNABIT! It’s not my job to teach them! It’s my job to be annoyed that it wasn’t infused into their brains through their umbilical cord. I blame video games. And the MTV. And Ritalin. And flash dancing. And Heidi Montag for breaking up the Beatles.

But Cara here thinks that maybe, instead of ridiculing kids for not knowing what they’ve never been exposed to and therefore don’t know exists, we should expose them. And maybe even teach them.

I happen to personally be in the process of saving the world by forming my own foundation. It’s like the JREF, but with fewer gay men and more focused on vaginas. But if you’re a gay man, you should totally get involved with us. Come to our psychic fair fundraiser… and tell me how YOU want to save the world. I might even let you head up a committee and give you some funds to do it. Hell, do it even if you’re not gay. Because, forealz, the kids can’t teach themselves about things they don’t know matter.

So People Are Uninformed, Uncritical and We’re All Doomed Huh? FIX IT!

Cara Dearman

You know what pisses me off and makes me scared for the future of society all at the same time? Lack of research. I’m not talking about lack of funding for scientific research or college kids who do everything online; I’m talking about normal everyday people who form these SET IN STONE opinions based entirely on one sentence that they read/heard and their own faulty logic. Here’s the thing though, we can fix it.

This is pretty much how most of society works as far as I can tell: “BP caused an oil spill. Oil spills are bad. That gas station says BP, so people who buy gas at that gas station are bad.” If that person did even a tiny bit of research into the actual consequences of their boycott they would discover that BP, in fact, doesn’t own that (or almost any) gas stations and gets no more money from it than a Shell or Conoco station, and all that they are doing by boycotting it is driving a small business-owner into the poor house. But boy are you making a useless statement about how you feel, so good for fucking you.

And not only do people make these snap judgments that are often wrong, but they refuse to change them even in the face of actual evidence. “Health care reform will make our country into a socialist hell!” “But Massachusetts passed health care reform and it’s not a socialist hell. And now we have passed health care reform and your life is appreciably the same.” “La la la la, I’m not listening!” It is beyond frustrating because these people vote! They have the power to change my life for the worse! Sometimes it makes me want to give up and be totally uninformed just so I don’t have to think about it.

This is a problem. The only solution that I can think of is education. And not this “test the shit out of kids” crap that we’re doing now, but education that makes kids learn to THINK CRITICALLY and question things. Why don’t we focus a little less on filling their heads with the information that we already think we know, and focus a lot more on teaching them how to find out the stuff that we DON’T know yet?

What if each elementary and middle school taught philosophy and debate as part of its curriculum? What if to graduate you had to show that you could critically analyze an argument? That would help. We are so focused on controlling everything that kids learn, in fear that they will have opinions or beliefs that we don’t like, that we aren’t giving them the tools to CREATE things, ideas, theories and all of the other stuff that advances society and makes it better. We need to fix that!

So here’s my call to all of you awesome critical thinkers. Go fix it. If the schools won’t do it, we can. Band together with other people and start a philosophy, debate, or science club at an elementary or middle school. Find a sympathetic teacher who will agree to be the club sponsor. Put together a proposal and show how it won’t cost the school anything. Volunteer your time and talents to help kids grow into critical thinkers. And if you can’t do that, then do something else. But focus on the kids. It’s like the tobacco companies say, you’ve got to hook ‘em while they’re young. Let’s stop complaining about how Texas, America, and everywhere else is DOOMED and start fixing it.

PS – when you do start fixing it, and come up with your plan, drop me an e-mail and tell me about it. I’m at cd [at symbol] caradearman [dot] com.

Cara Dearman is a lawyer and skeptic living in New York City. Though she doesn’t have a formal scientific education, she reads science news and blogs voraciously and enthusiastically educates her friends on the latest in new technology and astronomy (to the point that they have started tuning her out when she starts a sentence with “You know what’s amazing?”). Cara blogs about living a life of curiosity and gratitude and is currently writing about her quest to simply her life down to what’s really important at You can also follow her on Twitter @thinkc.

The Skepchick Reader Rants, posted every Wednesday at 3PM Eastern, is a feature where you, the Skepchick readers, get to tell the Skepchick community what you think about whatever you want! To be considered, please submit an original rant, preferably unpublished anywhere else, to skepchick(at)skepchick(dot)org with the subject: My Rant.

*Damn kids today and their rap and roll and giving me hope for the future (video submitted, with perfect timing, by Steve Ting):


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. As an elementary school teacher, I have seen far too much of this. But It’s not as easy at it sounds. It’s a struggle to even get the kids to ask questions, around here. Folks around here don’t like questions. They get defensive and angry. Kids aren’t stupid, so they learn fast that the fewer questions asked the better. They learn this long before they ever get to school, so that even if they are willing, they don’t know how to question. That should be the goal for elementary school. Question. Everything. All the time. They have to be brimming with questions, millions of things they don’t understand. Those questions need to be set free. Once that happens, the rest will follow.
    I’d love to think it could happen in the higher elementary grades, but at leat in the district where I have taught it can’t happen until there is some serious reform. There simply is no time for it unless you are willing to risk your position by thowing away the rule book. The time teachers must allot to direct instruction in each curricular area is carved in stone, and leaves very little time to the teacher’s discretion. There lies the rub. Direct instruction is a very specific teaching method – one in which you lecture, you model, then you guide them as they copy you and finally they do it alone. Hardly a method that encourages critical thinking. It’s also a boring method, which might explain why so many kids are bored to death at school. Often the only thing to spark their interest is science – but the way it is done is almost a travesty.

    Today we are going to make this happen. Let’s get the materials, make sure we don’t break anything, follow these steps, and look at that, wasn’t that great, just like a bloody magic trick. If your “experiment” didn’t look exactly like everybody else’s you did it wrong, or got the wrong result. And just to spare you the work of actually wondering and wanting to know, we will tell you right now exactly what will happen and why it will happen that way so that there are no questions left at the end.

    Especially during my practicums, it made me sick to see what some teacher consider science instruction. They don’t get it, and rather than let ignorance be motivation for exploration, they let themselves be intimidated to the point that deviating from the script provided by the suppliers of materials and texts is tantamount to sacrilege. But when your day is steeped from beginning to end in the pre-measured, predetermined steps of direct instruction, following the script comes naturally.

    So here’s the plan (and my advice to all): when a kid asks you a question, treat it with all the respect you would show if your boss was asking it. Answer it honestly and appropriately, and ask one of your own. Even if you are late for something, even if you don’t think the kid will understand. If you’re spending time with a kid, ask them some good questions. have you ever seen a cl0ud that looked like bugs bunny? What’s your favorite bug? if you were a flower, what flower would you like to be? Get them looking at the world around them looking for answers. Let them know that having questions is good. That questions should be asked, so that they can be answered. That uncertainty is not failure and that the wrong answer is not something to fear. the rest will follow.

  2. I agree completely gwenwifar. Being a hugely-over-multi-tasking-creative myself it is very disturbing to see the lack of, and often distain for creativity today.

    Hell, what I cherish as “creativity” is often called ADD and “drugged out” of kids today.

    And with the limitations placed on the Teachers by NCLB, it doesn’t look good for the future.

    As parents–those of us that are–we need to take up the slack until the education system is reformed again. We need to teach critical thinking, and inquisitiveness, and thinking outside the box.

    And if the schools aren’t teaching art, or music because of funding cuts, then we need to make
    sure our kids get the chance to experience and
    learn about them anyway.

    If we teach the lowest common denominator then that’s what we’re gonna get.

  3. If that person did even a tiny bit of research into the actual consequences of their boycott they would discover that BP, in fact, doesn’t own that (or almost any) gas stations and gets no more money from it than a Shell or Conoco station, and all that they are doing by boycotting it is driving a small business-owner into the poor house.

    While it is true that BP doesn’t own many stations directly, BP franchises sell mostly BP gas. If everyone stopped buying gas from BP branded stations the BP corporation would be hurt. I know this is not the only way BP makes money, BP gas is sold at places other than BP stations, and I have no idea if enough of their revenue comes from selling gas through retailers that a boycott could kill the company. To say the only thing a boycott would accomplish is to hurt the station owner is overstated, simplistic, and a snap judgment in its own right.

    Personally I think boycotting BP is a fine idea. Of course in my case it is just collateral damage from boycotting all gasoline stations.

  4. I will confess! I am boycotting BP fuel stations — however I still shop at the BP nearby my house for my non-petroleum purchases. I will still support the (local family) owners, but no way will I pay into BP’s coffers if I can help it. (I’m not Fuel Free yet, and don’t have the money to become free from petroleum for some time, so for now I must make do, and try to improve/lessen my impact in any small way I can.)

    Rest of article: Agreed/Awesome/Thank You. And to the commenters, I agree – Many adults today are reinforcing that it’s Not Okay To Ask Questions and that’s very dangerous to our future generations! It’s one of 1,000 different issues that are being suffocated by taking a Lowest Common Denominator approach!

  5. @davew: Your argument is logical, but your conclusion is wrong. Cara is right. You aren’t hurting BP one iota. The premise that is missing from your calculation is the fact that all the fuel pipelines are linked. Gasoline companies don’t just sell to consumers. They also sell to each other.

    Anything BP doesn’t sell to its affiliated stations it then sells to the other companies…you know the ones that are doing more business because people are boycotting BP and need the extra gas to sell. A guaranteed revenue stream. It’s a nice racket if you can get it.

    This bit of reality is also good to keep in mind when the gas companies are trying to tell you that their gas is better, cleaner, etc. It’s all the same.

    @chriso: Buying from the convenience store, using their service bays, etc. is always a better way to support the local business. That is where they make their money. On gas, they net about one cent a gallon. The rest goes to the gas company. Did I mention that this was a nice racket to be in?

  6. We want people to research and ask questions, and I agree wholeheartedly that we don’t teach that kind of thinking in school.
    But I have another issue too – I have a natural inquisitive nature and so I do research. But that isn’t so easy is it?
    I am not always able to find the relevant research.
    If I find it, I am not a scientist. I don’t necessarily even fully understand the abstract of some papers much less trying to delve into the meat of a paper.
    I am not qualified to tell if the experiment was done well and contained an appropriate amount of control.
    I am not willing to pay for research behind paywalls particularly if I am not positive it actually is part of the answer I am looking for.

    And this is only things related to science. That doesn’t even begin to cover the world events and the various misrepresented, or ignored facts that are daily part of our news coverage.

    We want people to look into these issues. But where? And who to trust?
    I want someone to point me to a site that has put all of the data on controversial issues, on current events, etc in one library of links to the relevant information, with commentary on any weaknesses in the data. Is there one?

  7. @TheCzech: Your argument is logical, but your conclusion is wrong.

    My conclusion is demonstrably correct. A boycott will hurt BP some. Right now, at the very least, it is costing the $50 million to $70 million that BP plans to pay to affiliated stations because of the boycott. ( You can use this fact to infer that BP has an economic interest in these stations remaining under the BP flag that is worth more than the money they are spending.

    The cardinal writing sin the author committed was not so much getting the facts wrong, but when using examples to demonstrate a point the examples should be clear and convincing to your audience so you can slow walk them into your larger and more profound point. Even if this example was correct, it is still not obviously correct which is nearly as bad.

  8. And not only do people make these snap judgments that are often wrong, but they refuse to change them even in the face of actual evidence. “Health care reform will make our country into a socialist hell!” “But Massachusetts passed health care reform and it’s not a socialist hell. And now we have passed health care reform and your life is appreciably the same.” “La la la la, I’m not listening!” It is beyond frustrating because these people vote!

    Another big problem with this sort of attitude is that it sucks the life out of more intelligent debate. There are all sorts of reasonable debates that could have been had around how best to fix your healthcare system, but since a lot of public attention was taken up by the “get the government out of Medicare!” and “OMG Socialism!!!” crowds, that debate wasn’t had, except in some of the wonkier parts of the blogosphere.

  9. I’m with you on everything but the BP part.

    Mainly because a lot of gas stations, even if owned by an individual, mandate that they use only that brands gas product. I know Arco is one of those. I know of at least one situation where because of an instance where it was discovered that a different brand of gas was used, the business was no longer allowed to use the Arco name. The disputed it and Arco now owns the store directly.

    I just can’t use their gas if even one penny might eventually make it their. It’s just not ok. I know that there are multiple corporations that are involved and BP is in control of a lot of them in the chain of production.

    I’ll admit, the boycott is not going to be super effective, which is not shocking, but, I will say this, at very least don’t buy the gas. If you know the owner and have no issues with them as a business person feel free to buy whatever you’d like inside the store. Although I will say this, generally the preferred demographic for gas stations and their complimentary mini marts rarely is a demographic that could give a shit about boycotts. Meh, not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. Plus, I’ve heard muliple Republicans spewing that idea of hurting the small business owner if you boycott, as a talking point. You’ll most of the extremely successful Arco’s are not owned by anyone but Arco. They have a habit of taking over the businesses that are in particularly fruitful locations.

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