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Learn Hexadecimal


with 2 comments

I seem to have brushed up against the edges of an ongoing blogosphere argument about… uh, honestly I’m not sure. I got there through a post about name-calling, which looks to be in response to posts about the compatibility of religion and science. I dunno. I’m still working my way through all the links to links of links of et cetera.

Somewhere in there, some people said some things about education and how to teach kids and/or people in general to think scientifically (as opposed to thinking in other ways that don’t work as well for interacting with reality).

I’m probably not the first person to say this, but I am absolutely the first person to back up the assertion with this particular anecdote.

You ready? Here goes:

It does not fucking matter what you teach. What matters is how you teach it. And you have to teach something; trying to directly impart a methodology of thought just doesn’t work.

See, when I was a wee little hexagon, my father taught me to think like a scientist with one word: Speculate.

This was his first answer whenever I asked any kind of question about the world around me. After I had either given a halting, incomplete, childish explanation or just told him I had no earthly clue, he would spell out his personal theory and explain what facts led him to that conclusion. As I grew up, the complexity of the eventual explanations increased, but the basic formula stayed the same: first, you encourage the kid to come up with some kind of answer to the question. Then, you answer it yourself.

And what exactly did this method teach me? It taught me to automatically answer my own questions about the world. Furthermore, it taught me to answer them in roughly the format that Dad kept using, i.e. with conclusions drawn based on observed evidence and applied reasoning.

I therefore conclude that the way you teach kids to think like scientists— maybe not the only way, but a damn good one— is by example.


Written by Learn Hexadecimal

July 14, 2009 at 7:41 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure if how to go about answering question is at the heart of scientific illiteracy. Being able to answer your own questions and being able to apply reason to answering them is definitely important and lacking. But I think a bigger issue is that for a society that spends the first 18 years of a person’s life on education, we don’t value intellectual curiosity as much as we ought to. It’s not going to do anyone any good to know how to answer questions when they’re not that interested in posing question in the first place.


    July 15, 2009 at 3:22 am

    • Hmm, you’re right.

      But the solution might be related. All kids ask questions, after all. The same people who tell them to speculate can encourage them to ask more things.

      I sure as shit don’t see any other good ways to encourage intellectual curiosity in society at large.

      Learn Hexadecimal

      July 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

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