A big emphasis of homeschooling at our house is thinking critically about the resources we use for information. I have always wanted my kids to understand that books, websites, presentations, magazines, television, and newspapers have a point of view, and that in order to be well-educated, we need to challenge ourselves with information that comes from a variety of editorial viewpoints.
As part of my commitment to inquiry-based learning, I have frequently played “devil’s advocate” with my kids, especially by the later elementary years, and certainly throughout the middle school years, high school years, and beyond. Sketching out the corresponding point of view for the sake of argument, I'll ask...
What if the (Democratic/Republican/Libertarian) view is right about that?
What if the (industrialists/economists/environmentalists) have a point here?
What if the (pope/president/prime minister/military leader/grandmother/congress member/pastor) is the one who has the most information and wisdom on this subject?
What if the science is (wrong/right)?
What if the ethics are (right/wrong)?
What might you think about this if you were (older/less healthy/a different race or ethnicity/from another country/unable to connect to the Internet)?
Who wrote that historical account? Was it the victors? How would the account differ if the losers had written it?
How are rural people and urban people impacted differently by that policy?
And so on.
Asking my kids – and myself – to consider things from multiple angles means asking them to consider using a variety of sources to inform themselves about issues of the day.
As a regular and ongoing part of our homeschooling, I have urged our tweens and teens especially to beware of the following three tendencies people have:
- Selective exposure. This is the idea that people tend to selectively expose themselves to media and experiences that reinforce their current understandings and beliefs. If they agree with the editorial views of MSNBC, they won't watch FOX. If they agree with the editorial views of The Washington Times, they won't read The New York Times. And they definitely don't read "third way" publications or articles that have more nuanced views or complicated takes on things.
- Selective perception. This is the idea that when people read or hear something in the media, they tend to only "see" or perceive things in the message that conform with their existing viewpoints. They'll gloss right over facts that contradict what they "know," completely ignoring them.
- Selective retention. This is the idea that people tend to selectively remember things – retaining only the information that supports their pre-existing ideas about issues. Therefore, even if people are incidentally exposed to information that challenges them and they realize it at the time, they’ll tend not to remember that information.
All this can lead to confirmation bias -- which, as Wikipedia says, is "is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses."
Part of college-prep homeschooling is helping our kids understand that college professors are going to expect students to use resources from multiple viewpoints, to challenge personal biases to see if they stand up to scrutiny, and to consider real evidence in reaching conclusions.
As my two young adult sons can attest, and as I can promise from my work as a college faculty member, our homeschooled graduates will be expected to incorporate these varied resources into their papers and presentations for college courses.
Homeschooling offers a unique opportunity for reinforcing these concepts to our high schoolers. As I mentioned in an earlier post, "College students quickly discover that they are not allowed to write papers using information only from their textbooks. Students who are comfortable using resources other than curriculum understand that there are many resources they can use to do research for academic papers and projects."
Do your homeschooled high schoolers some favors:
- Let them see you consuming media with varying and conflicting viewpoints.
- Bring challenging books and articles into your homeschooling, so they'll have experience with research that does not promote confirmation bias.
- Ask devil's advocate questions -- use inquiry-based learning -- to help them understand how to defend their positions or relinquish those which do not fit the facts.
- Expose your kids to international points of view.
- Explain the concept behind selective exposure, selective perception, and selective retention, so they'll be aware of their own human tendency to seek out, see, and remember information that is compatible with their pre-existing ideas -- even if those ideas are wrong!