|The Elusive Jackalope by Jerry W. Lewis CC-BY-NC-SA|
I was thinking about this whole madcap adventure recently when a few of us were talking about the need for everyone to develop a good "bullshit detector." (Or, if you prefer, to develop "information literacy" skills.) I can remember lots of examples over the years of my career where I was a bit stunned by what students (and adults) of all ages believed---and how many of them refused to adjust these inaccuracies. Do you have any idea how many people out there think the blood in your veins is actually blue? Because that's how every anatomy drawing depicts things. Or, hey, the veins you can see through your skin are blue, so what's inside must be blue, too. Or my personal favourite, "My third grade teacher said it was."
|I Want to Believe by mat- CC-BY-NC-ND|
It is simple enough to point to a lack of critical thinking...the lack of the bs detector...that enables such beliefs to persist. But I'm not so sure it's due to ignorance or utter gullibility. I think that if you like the idea of a jackalope, then you're going to want to find one. Beyond that, however, is that most kids trust adults. They expect us to tell the truth. If we say jackalopes exist...or that the blood in your veins is blue...then believing that is a lot more comfortable than thinking that grown-ups have been lying all along.
In science circles, there is lots of talk about identifying and addressing student misconceptions. I don't know how many success stories there are...how many kids actually change how they think the world works because we give them new experiences. And although my view is a bit more broad now---looking at developing a bullshit detector that applies in all areas---the challenge is the same. It has to be safe to ask certain questions of yourself and challenge those of others. How do we create learning environments that move students from wanting to believe...to wanting to believe the evidence?