Teaching kids critical thinking

By Grant Jacobs 25/09/2011

… through adventures with the Nac Mac Feegles.

Looking at the titles of the blog posts over the weekend, it is as if the world had gone on a rampage of sloppy thinking.


Sometimes it really does feel like that when I read local newspapers or magazines.

Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men is a children’s book that encourages critical thinking.

Tiffany Aching is a hag (witch). Like all true witches she has First Sight and Second Thoughts.

First Sight for seeing things as they are, and not as she might want to them to be.

Second Thoughts for questioning things.

The book deals with other childhood themes. Death. Saving your little brother, even though you’re not sure you really like him. That sort of thing.

Readers are tipped off about the main theme early on, from the close of chapter one:

‘What does she teach?’ she [Tiffany] asked.

‘Couldn’t say,’ said the teacher. ‘She says it’s thinking, but I don’t know how you teach that. That’ll be one carrot, thank you.’*

I’m not certain of the best ages for reading this, but let’s say from about age nine or ten. (Tiffany is aged nine.)

I and others at sciblogs have written about the value of critical thinking and have ruminated about how it is taught, both in universities and schools. The passage above reminds me of Larry Moran writing similar thoughts about teaching university students critical thinking of the scientific literature.

Colleagues have suggested that the basics should start young.

The Wee Free Men seems as good a starting point as any. (Although, of course, you could start the real basics even younger. Little kids ask lots of questions…) It‘s a series,** followed by A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight starring Tiffany Aching aged twelve, thirteen and sixteen, respectively.


* Teachers are paid vegetables or eggs.

** Reviewers suggest you can read the first three in any order; some suggest the fourth book lacks a backstory connecting it with the earlier books.

(Updated to add fourth book in the series and with that the second footnote has been revised, too.)

Other articles on Code for life:

A course for all degrees: PHIL 105, Critical Thinking

Should we teach examples of scientists falling for unscientific practices?

What aspects of biology need to be explained better?

Finding platypus venom

Chemical-free alternatives (as seen on TV3)

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