One of my desires as a homeschooling mom is to teach my children how to discern truth from error. Do you have any suggestions for teaching my children to really think through the information they encounter, whether it’s from books, the internet or other media sources?
Very good question! I’ll highlight the strategies I think are important and try to use with my own children.
How to Think
“The Communists are determined…that the political sovereignty of the people shall be destroyed as an incident to control of local schools. It is their objective to capture the minds of our youth in order to indoctrinate them in what to think and not how to think.” George C. Wallace in speech on July 4, 1964.
Romans 3:4 says, “…but every man a liar;” because no man knows all truth. Even with the best of intentions writers will make mistakes, and those with evil intentions will purposefully set out to deceive. Good for you, wanting to teach your children to use their minds as the analytical machines the Lord intended, learning how to think, not what to think.
Foundation Built on Truth
“But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:13-17
If children can’t recognize the truth, they are not likely to differentiate it from lies. Therefore, it is important for them to have a firm foundation built on truth, as I believe is found in the Holy Scriptures. The Word made flesh is truth. Know the Word if you want to know truth, which is spiritually discerned.
Prefer Primary Sources
“Education… has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.” G. M. Trevelyan
Primary sources are original records, including letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, etc. that were created by witnesses and/or recorders of events at the time of the events or soon after they happened. Primary sources are likely to be more accurate than interpretations because you are getting the information “right from the horse’s mouth,” per se, but they are certain to still be biased as they are written only from that writer’s point of view. Secondary sources (interpretations of primary sources) and other interpretations of interpretations can be read too, keeping in mind that the further from the source you get, the more inaccuracies you are likely to encounter.
Prove All Things
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21
The word “prove” means to test, examine, and scrutinize to see whether a thing is genuine or not. Children should try to prove each new concept, testing it against Scripture. Go through the concept word by word, line by line, scrutinizing its meaning. Give children access to resources such as a Webster’s 1828 dictionary, and a good concordance such as Strong’s, teaching them that the meanings of words are not always as commonly understood. Compare the concept to other sources. I taught my children from a young age that if they find a concurring thought in at least three sources, it may be true. If a concept is decidedly false at this point, throw it out. There is no reason to clutter the mind with lies. If your child isn’t sure if a concept is true, continue analyzing.
“They found him in some part of the temple, where the doctors of the law kept their schools; he was sitting there, hearkening to their instructions, proposing questions, and answering inquiries, with such wisdom, that those who heard were delighted with him. Young persons should seek the knowledge of Divine truth, attend the ministry of the gospel, and ask such questions of their elders and teachers as may tend to increase their knowledge.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary
After children are introduced to a concept, and attempt to prove it, they need to feel comfortable asking questions. We want them to ask lots of questions! These questions are proof that they are thinking about a concept and not just accepting what they read as truth. Until children are in the habit of asking questions, some prompts may be needed. Encourage them to ask who is writing, how the author comes to these conclusions, and what the author’s bias is. Authors almost always go beyond names, places and dates, and those extras are what we want children to question.
Understand Objective versus Subjective
“For reasons I do not understand, writers today are supposed to be objective. Few disclose the viewpoints or opinions they use to decide what information is important and what is not, or what shall be presented or omitted. I do not adhere to this standard and make no pretense of being objective. I am biased…” Richard Maybury, author of the Uncle Eric series.
Objective writing will be free from or independent of personal feelings, opinions, prejudice and emotions, making it unbiased. Subjective writing originates from or is influenced by one’s personal feelings, interests, prejudices and emotions, making it biased.
It is important that children understand that almost all writing is subjective, and therefore not complete truth. Encourage children to look for and identify these biases, most often based on worldviews.
“All [religions] have a basic world view, ideas about God or ultimate reality, ideas about the origin and destiny of the world and of individual humans, a revelation or authority or meditation between the ultimate and humankind, standards about what is expected of humans – that is, patterns of worship, spiritual practices, and ethics or behavior – and an institutional or sociological expression.” Many Peoples, Many Faiths by Robert S. Ellwood
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Colossians 2:8
Everything everywhere is affected by worldviews. You will see the bias of worldviews in movies, television, music, magazines, newspapers, government, education, science, art, and all other aspects of culture. How people look at the world is indicative of how they will act and react in the world. Being able to identify a writer’s worldview will help children to understand the bias, and sift through it for truth.
Many factors can affect someone’s worldview including their genetic makeup, traditions, experiences and life situations, values, attitudes and habits that they have developed, and/or their indoctrination, and these vary from one to another. So even though communities often share some aspects of a worldview, other parts differ for individuals. There are thousands of religions in this world, and there is no way to pigeonhole all the worldviews into five or six groups, but it is a start. There is a thorough chart of some of the more common worldviews found HERE. And even the chart itself is biased, as the writer’s worldview is decidedly Christian. There is another chart, for the sake of comparison, found HERE.
Understanding the various worldviews does not mean children need to agree with them all, and they shouldn’t. But understanding the perspective from which a work is written will better help children to analyze motives.
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” Napoleon Bonaparte
“Regardless of the reason, the fact is there are things in textbooks, classrooms, museums and science centers across the world that simply are not correct. Whether they are taught deliberately or innocently, teaching these lies is going to Brainwash students into believing something that is not true.” Dr. Kent Hovind in Are You Being Brainwashed?
Expect that an author will write in an effort to communicate an underlying message. The message may be a political or religious one, or may reflect the emotions or events of the author’s own life. It will be based on the author’s own worldview, in an attempt to get the reader to see things his way. After all, he probably believes it to be true, and wants others to believe it too. Humanists want to sell you on the idea of evolution, Marxists want you to believe that a classless society is best, and Christians and Muslims want to persuade you to believe in a Divine Law they each hold so dear. So we need to encourage children to ask not only who, what, where and when, but also why. Why does the author write the things he does? Why is he motivated this way? Why does he want me to believe ______________? Why is this different than what I’ve been taught to believe?
“Propaganda has only one object: to conquer the masses. Every means that further this aim is good; every means that hinders it is bad.” Joseph Goebbels
In communicating their worldviews, authors will often use propaganda techniques to sell their ideas. As children analyze motives, they should be conscientious of these propaganda techniques. The author trying to make the sale will try to persuade by distorting questions, sabotaging arguments, and misusing evidence, often in a subtle way. There are eight basic techniques propagandists use:
- Flag-Waving – When they attempt to sell you on an idea by trying to convince you that you are a good American if you buy their way of thinking. In this technique, they will use popular virtues such as flag-waving patriotism/nationalism, baseball, or apple pie to make you believe that you are unpatriotic if you don’t agree. You will often see this method used by the Statist worldviews, but I’ve also seen it used by Christian wordviews.
- Appeal to Emotions – When they try to sell you on an idea by tugging on the heartstrings and using words that evoke emotions instead of giving factual information. This technique includes appeals to pity or compassion, such as “you wouldn’t want _________ to suffer anymore, would you?” or appeals to complete happiness, such as “I’ve never been happier since I ___________.” All of the worldviews use this technique to some extent.
- Act Fast! – When they try to sell you on an idea by making you believe that it is “now or never!” or “time is of the essence!” They want you to believe that you better act fast, without really thinking it though, or you will lose the opportunity. The Environmentalist worldviews often use this in their “Save the planet now!” propaganda.
- Poisoning the Well – When they try to sell you on an idea by undercutting the credibility of one to sell you on another. The accusations are most often unsupported and sometimes involve name-calling. Politicians of all worldviews often use this technique, spending more time assassinating another’s character than promoting themselves. The idea behind “poisoning the well” is that if the well is polluted, no good can come of it.
- Testimonial – When they try to sell you on an idea by appealing to the authority of a famous person or group. If a famous, recognizable person endorses an idea, it must be wonderful, right?
- Repetition – When they try to sell you on an idea by repeating words or phrases so they are firmly planted in the viewer’s mind.
- Association – When they try to sell you on an idea by associating a person with admirable qualities or lifestyle to the idea being sold. You will look at the person and think, “I would be just like ____________ if I thought ___________.”
- Faulty Conclusions – When they try to sell you on an idea by misrepresenting facts. One way they do this is by making hasty generalizations, basing conclusions on inadequate evidence. An example would be “If a little is good, a lot will be great.” Another way is through composition and division, which is based on the assumption that the whole of something will have the same quality as each of its parts, or the converse belief that each part will have the quality of the whole. An example would be a baseball team being called great because they have a great pitcher. But if you took that pitcher away, would the team still be great? A third way is to present a false cause, blaming one thing for the outcome of another, even though the effects may be totally coincidental. An example would be calling a driver reckless for hitting a tree, even though the brakes on the car were found to be faulty.
Stand on and Walk in Truth
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” Ephesians 6:13-17
“Given a choice between their worldview and the facts, it’s always interesting how many people toss the facts.”Rebecca Solnit
Once the child has tested a concept against the Word, proved out the concept through study and comparison, asked questions, identified the worldview, analyzed motives, and recognized propaganda techniques, encourage him to take a stand. If he holds an opinion, one way or the other, require him to defend his position, explain how he arrived at an answer and why he believes it to be right. Remind him that it is ok to be wrong or not to know an answer, but that he will lose credibility if he often stands on wrong premises. Also, it is ok to tweak his own worldview a bit as more information is learned. And most importantly, glorify the Lord as you speak the truth in love, and pray as David did, “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth:” Psalms 86:11.