You Ask, I Answer: Critical Thinking in School Curricula?

Diane asks, “How does less critical thinking (because of recommendation engines) impact things like curricula in schools?”

You Ask, I Answer: Critical Thinking in School Curricula?
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Christopher Penn 0:13

In today’s episode, Diane asks How does less critical thinking because a recommendation engines and AI impact things like curricula in schools? We don’t know yet.

We don’t know yet.

Because all this stuff, recommendations and stuff engines and things are relatively new.

You know, we’re talking 2025 years a lesson, we’re talking about education systems that in some cases are over a century old.

But one of the challenges that education has been facing for the last 30 years and has not done a great job of adapting to is the change in what the role of education is, right? It used to be that education, the teachers and schools were the gatekeepers of information here is knowledge, we are imparting it upon you.

Obviously, that’s no longer the case, right? Reality is now this is a massive source of knowledge, real and fake.

And it is an obligation for education systems to teach people how to use these things, and to judge information critically to think about it to say, Hmm, are you saying that you know, that the world is actually flat, which is patently absurd.

Like, you can buy a weather balloon and just verify for yourself that the world is not flat, it’s not not literally not rocket science.

Anyway.

Because schools, particularly in in Western nations, in places like the United States of America, where I’m based, are built on and built with a philosophy of sort of the industrial era, you have batches of product called students, right.

And there’s grades, which are the individual batches, you have quality control and quality assurance called testing.

The education system is very much a 20th century a system that is designed to create useful workers useful and obedient workers.

That’s not the world we live in anymore.

The world we live in requires a lot more critical thinking from being a even halfway competent citizen of your nation, and being able to see and recognize disinformation and misinformation, to being able to assess the trustworthiness of information sources, and critique them to validate them.

It’s something that, you know, I struggle with my own kids, I see a lot of other parents struggling with as well.

schools don’t teach critical thinking.

Because the system that we have is not designed for that.

It’s, it’s designed for the opposite.

It’s designed for non critical thinking, because the way that Carnegie and Rockefeller and Mellon designed the system for schools back in the 1930s was obedient workers, they wanted obedient workers that wouldn’t ask questions that wouldn’t critically think that wouldn’t cause strain for factory managers.

Again, that world is gone, but the education system is still largely the same.

So when we look at AI and machine learning have an impact on our ability to think critically and or to just accept recommendations were given.

We are faced with the fact that our populations, especially again in the country, like the one I live in, are not trained to think critically are not trained to ask questions to validate information sources, is this source trustworthy or not? How would you know if this is trustworthy or not? One of the reasons we’ve had so much trouble in the last 10 to 15 years is because of confirmation bias, right? Confirmation bias is essentially liking and pursuing and consuming more of the things that you already agree with.

So if I tell you that green is the best color, and you are you love the color green, you will have a natural affinity towards my perspective, even if I’m not telling the truth, right? Even if I say the sky is green? Well, I mean, you should be able to look up the sky.

That’s patently not true.

But again, because of the lack of critical thinking of a lack of questioning information sources in rigorous ways, we have a population of people who are not not trained for that.

We saw this to substantial and deadly effect in the pandemic which is still ongoing when people refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated despite there being He a legion of credible, scientifically valid, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt mathematically evidence that those actions are good things to do to wear a mask to get vaccinated.

There are

Christopher Penn 5:16

I would say mathematically, there has never been so much evidence, as there is there was for COVID vaccines and stuff and we’re talking billions of samples, and, you know, maybe 1000s of issues, your mathematical perspective, you’re more likely to have a car accident all the way to and from your vaccination, then you are to have any ill effects from it by a substantial margin.

So the emphasis that we have to place in schools is to redesign that curriculum to encourage critical thinking to, to make more difficult to manage people, right, people who will ask questions, people who will say that doesn’t make sense.

Explain this, to me until it makes sense to me.

Who will say I don’t believe that that information source is credible, prove that they are telling the truth.

And that’s a hard task, because our education system, our classroom, our teaching methods, none of those things is designed for that.

All right, if you look at how a modern classroom behaves, right, if you if you spend any amount of time in a public school, you will see that the opposite is in effect.

Okay? Everybody sit down and be quiet line up, you know, form in line from shortest to tallest very, again, 20th century industrial things, and not ask him why he asked us to do this in the first place.

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

What’s the benefit of lining up shortest to tallest? I was looking at, I was helping my one of my kids with their math homework recently.

And it was this long page of exercises of, you know, series of numbers and you guessed the operators to balance equations.

And it was just busywork.

Like, okay, what is the point of this? Why are we doing this? What skill does this teach? What does this serve? It’s busy work.

That was a it was a sheet full of busy work.

So I ended up designing my Oh, it’s okay, I want you to convert all these numbers from to and from scientific notation so that you can read exponents because half the time and you know, software like Excel, it will spit out something in scientific notation, you need to convert it backwards, there’s a clear use case for that.

So a part of what we have to do with curricula and schools is also have curricula here at home, right and teach our children not to just blindly accept what they’re taught, but to ask questions about and for us to find, again, valid, rigorous, generally accepted knowledge to impart to them and make it as free of our own biases as possible, which is really difficult.

It’s really difficult for everybody, right? If you say, are growing up in a conservative household and your conservative family, teach your kids to be able to evaluate intelligently liberal talking points, really important, and vice versa.

The other side is also true, you have to be able to hold in your brain, multiple contradictory points of view, if you want people to think critically, if you want people to say, Okay, I recognize the validity of your point of view, I recognize that you believe it to be true.

And from your point of view, that is the truth.

And then say I have a point of view on that to have an opinion on that.

And in the middle is the data that is or should be in arguable, right? This, the number of the things that happened here was 27.

Don’t know that there should not be once you’ve proven it, there should not be dispute about the number of things that actually happen, you can have any opinion about what it means.

But teaching kids this is in arguable base truth.

And then these are the things that you can do with it.

So there’s a lot of work to be done in education.

And unfortunately, in many places, it’s not happening.

The education system, as well as the legal system are so far behind reality, that the burden of responsibility is on us as parents as citizens, as taxpayers, to push our schools, our teachers our curriculum, to adopt a curriculum that resembles today’s world and the challenges that people are going to face in today’s world.

One of the things that my martial arts teachers have said a lot is that when you look at the techniques in the old scrolls, these are not the easiest techniques are to look at the beginning middle end schools and beginning schools not the easiest techniques to do.

They were the techniques that answered the most common challenge This right, so in feudal Japan, being attacked by somebody with a sword, it was a fairly common challenge.

So you had to be able to deal with that being attacked by somebody with an eight foot halberd less common.

So that got bumped further into the curriculum.

Christopher Penn 10:16

When we look at the challenges people are going to have in today’s world like critical thinking, being able to read the political news section of your favorite news site and, and say, Okay, I can separate in this article, how much is factor? How much is opinion and where, what this publications bias is, that’s a critical skill.

We don’t teach it.

So there’s a lot to be done.

And machine learning and recommendation engines do make that worse by showing us more of the things that we already like.

So we have to be aware of our biases, and do our best to consume multiple points of view without driving us into a blind rage.

So challenging answer to a challenging question.

Thanks for asking.

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