Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016
In a blog in Scientific American, Deanna Kuhn, TC Professor of Psychology & Education, calls for the nurturing of "a critical set of intellectual skills and intellectual values" that will enable young people to both question and account for their own beliefs, with the goal of determining where they stand on any given issue but also why.
"In this strangest of American election years, discourse, long regarded as the lifeblood of democratic societies, appears more endangered than ever before, confined to sound bites and slogans of the moment," writes Kuhn, who has designed and tested an innovative curriculum to teach debating skills to middle and high school students and is the author of Education for Thinking (Harvard University Press) "Dialog, if it occurs at all, is confined to the “echo chamber” of like-minded individuals." Nevertheless, Kuhn says, she is "cautiously optimistic" that "with the right setting and little prompting...young teens are ready to engage deeply in debating complex issues of the day with their peers."
Kuhn argues that two skills in particular are essential. One is the ability to make a "clear distinction between explanation and evidence" and ultimately support one's opinion with facts. The other is a willingness to disavow "single-cause thinking: and recognize that multiple causes most often contribute to an outcome.
"If a single cause is regarded as sufficient to bear the explanatory burden, alternative causes will be seen as contradictory: Either my cause or your cause is the correct one," Kuhn writes. "An affective component enters in and reasoning becomes motivated by allegiance to one’s preferred cause."