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Why Humanity is Doomed Unless Our Schools Start Teaching Our Children How to Think (we need a fourth "R")

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Message Carmen Yarrusso

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At a bare minimum, our children must acquire skills in the "3 Rs" (reading, writing and 'rithmetic) to succeed in life. Humanity is dangerously past due adding a fourth critical R to our children's curriculum - reason (actually something much broader than reason, which I call sound thinking, outlined below). Sound thinking skills are vital not only to the well-being of individuals, but also vital to the well-being (indeed, the very survival) of our species in this increasingly interdependent, complex and dangerous world.

Our schools (and almost all of us) teach our children what to think instead of how to think - like giving them fish instead of teaching them how to fish. It takes years of studying and practicing basic principles for our children to become proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic. Why should we expect our children, or anyone else for that matter, to become proficient in sound thinking without similarly studying and practicing the basic principles for many years?

Thinking About Thinking

Most people go through their entire lives frequently making poor decisions because they lack the skills to consistently distinguish truth from falsehood, or to skeptically question the values they unconsciously adopted from others because they never learned how to think for themselves; they're not stupid, they simply don't know how to think soundly. For example, observe how most Americans are easily fooled by specious government lies that result in massive suffering and death here and around the world. The justifications given for the Iraq war, the drug war and the war on terror are prime examples of blatant government deceit that easily fools millions of us.

We humans tend to believe even absurdly unreasonable things if these beliefs give us enough comfort or ease enough pain. Millions of Americans sincerely believe our government representatives primarily work for the people's interests, even as they openly take millions in legal bribes from corporate interests. We humans much prefer false beliefs that feel good over beliefs that are true, but don't feel good. The only way to defeat these extremely harmful human propensities is to begin to formally teach our children how to think soundly.

I propose establishing a new discipline called sound thinking that eventually would be taught as a "fourth R" as specific courses of study are developed and gradually introduced into each grade level (discussed below).

The Insane World Around Us

Why should we expect any other world when even the most basic principles of sound thinking aren't a prominent part of humanity's basic education? Very few people learned how to read proficiently until it became part of basic education.

It's really quite astounding that a skill so vital for a harmonious, happy, productive and peaceful human existence is not taught right along with the 3 Rs. We live in a world where the label on a can of paint says: "Do not drink," which assumes the user can read, but can't think. Our culture has countless constructs designed to protect us, or at least mitigate the harm, from our ubiquitous unsound thinking. Moronic warning labels, laws and lists of prescribed and proscribed behavior in magazines, books and TV relentlessly try to compensate for our poor thinking skills.

Again, we teach our children what to think instead of how to think. We arm them with long lists, compiled over the years, that say do this, but don't do that; believe this, but don't believe that -absolving them from thinking for themselves. We literally teach our children not to think. When decision time comes, if it isn't on their list, they must either go by their gut feelings or let someone else "think" for them. If the outcome goes well, they add it to the "do" side of the list; if it doesn't go well, they add it to the "don't" side - assuming they don't kill themselves in the process.

Instead of teaching our children a method of thinking that applies to all decision-making, we let them suffer as they learn about the world the hard way by trial and error and fire. Is there a more obvious fact in the universe: that poor thinking skills guarantee poor decisions, which guarantee poor actions, which guarantee human misery?

Humankind took a giant step forward when reading, writing, and arithmetic skills became a basic part of formal education throughout the world. It's way past time for humankind to take another giant step forward by making sound thinking skills a basic part of formal education throughout the world.

Sound Thinking as a New Discipline

The proposed new discipline I call sound thinking would combine principles from three existing disciplines: psychology (about 45 percent), philosophy (about 45 percent), and math (about 10 percent).

So-called critical thinking courses offered in high schools haven't been very successful. Most critical thinking courses concentrate on teaching reason using principles of logic, while totally ignoring the much more significant psychological component of sound thinking. Understanding basic principles of logic is certainly an important part of acquiring sound thinking skills, but understanding basic principles of psychology is a much more significant part.

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Carmen Yarrusso, a software engineer for 35 years, designed and modified computer operating systems (including Internet software). He has a BS in physics and studied game theory and formal logic during his years with the math department at (more...)
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