Better Skeptical Than Cynical

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Better Skeptical Than Cynical

Nell Minow writes a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune called "Media Mom." Last week's focused on encouraging kids to approach Internet material with a healthy dose of critical thinking -- advice that adults should hear too.
Columnists get paid to promote Bush administration initiatives; bloggers expose the mistakes in a network news broadcast; and young people are more likely to get their headlines from the self-described fake news of Comedy Central's "Daily Show" than from newspapers.

These days, it seems like we all could use some extra guidance in telling the difference between data, reporting, opinion, advocacy and advertising. Developing this life skill is part of growing up, and parents can help kids practice how to evaluate the validity of what they read, hear and watch.

... Skepticism is an important research skill, and parents should make sure even the youngest children learn to ask "Who says so? How do they know? Are they fair?"
It would be nice to hear more adults asking those questions too. I like Edward R. Murrow's quote: "A public of sheep begets a government of wolves." (Hmmm, how timely.) But I digress....
Middle school children are old enough to join in debates about opinions and the way information is presented. Current topics might include banned books, "intelligent design" (a theory designed to get Bible-based theories classified as science) and the Focus on the Family objections to the "We Are Family" video message about tolerance featuring SpongeBob SquarePants and other characters.

... There's no substitute for a child learning to develop and apply his own judgment. Parents can show their children that Web sites, television shows, even newspaper articles are just the starting point for finding an answer, that information is not just the accumulation of data but requires sifting, analysis and a sense of proportion.

Giving children the skills they need to evaluate what they see and hear will help them from feeling so overwhelmed that they don't trust anyone.

The best way to keep them from being cynical is to train them to be skeptical.

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