Beginning again, with the basics of Critical Thinking

15 May - Posted by Diana

Quote of the week: "Don't just teach your children to read, teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question EVERYTHING."

The general education for Khmer children in recent decades seems to have focused primarily on teaching basic, practical skills that will allow them to find employment, while maintaining a "don't ask, don't question" approach. The notion of Critical Thinking is a totally alien concept.

In my first 4 months teaching here, I have been constantly surprised, and a little frustrated, by the lack of general knowledge being taught in schools. My students have never heard of WWI or WWII, Hitler and the Jews, they have no knowledge of world history – the Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Aztec, Inca, the neighbouring Mongol Empires, are all unknown. Even their knowledge of their own Khmer history is extremely limited. They know almost nothing about geography, very few can find Cambodia on a map. In science, they are not taught about our solar system, let alone the rest of the universe. They study chemistry, but not one student could tell me what H2O was.  The anatomy of their own bodies too is a mystery to them.

So, having rewritten the entire Ethics and Philosophy course, with this in mind, we are now beginning again, with the basics of Critical Thinking:

  • You can't believe everything you are told - even if you respect the person who is telling you. 
  • You can't believe everything you read, in newspapers, magazines or books.
  • You can't believe everything you see on television, the internet, or on advertising billboards.

To illustrate this, I interrupted a critical thinking lesson I was doing with a grade 5/6 class, to tell them about a mermaid I had seen under the bridge on the way home the night before. I described her in great detail then proceeded with the lesson. After about 15 minutes, I asked the class if they had believed my story and they replied: 

"Yes, of course!"

When I asked them why they believed me, one particularly bright student said:

"Because Di, you are very smart and I could see in your face, that it was true." 

To say they were surprised when I told them I had made it up would be an understatement.

The next example was even easier.

I found 2 reports of the same incident, reported in 2 different newspapers (with very obviously, opposing political leanings) and the children had lots of fun identifying all the disparities.

The final example brought peels of delighted laughter:

Me: "So you wish you looked like the man on that billboard, with his big, long, 'Western' nose and his light coloured skin (a BIG issue here). I don't believe HE even looks like that."

Student: "But it is a photograph, it must be true!"

So, out with the camera, log on to an online photo editor, and voila! - A class photo of long-nosed, fair-skinned Khmer children...