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As a mom to an almost teenager and a tween, I have watched binary and dichotomous thinking play out in the K-12 education over the past few years. These definitely took an ugly shape during the pandemic. This has directly affected my kids because of what they believed in.
I started to wonder: Why do we do this? Is this very different now than how it was before? Isn’t this one-way of thinking detrimental to meaningful and effective learning?
The reason why we build strong opinions lies in understanding how our brains work. For most of us, we form opinions too fast, otherwise known as 'fast thinking', and it is done based on limited evidence. It is more pronounced in some of us but we all do it to a certain degree.
It is also known that emotional distress causes our brains to engage in 'fast thinking' more than during other times. The reason we saw an increased dichotomous thinking during the pandemic is because we were afraid, angry, confused and frustrated.
Like all brain behaviors, this one-way-of-thinking can be reprogrammed. We can learn and practice to teach ourselves to be more accepting of differing perspectives and opinions. Most importantly, we can teach wholesome thinking to our children, and we must.
I don't want to simply write about how our schools and communities have adopted a one-way of thinking because that in itself would be binary thinking. I also believe that there is hope in changing how things are. So how do we encourage our children to be more open-minded and collaborative?
There's a famous saying that sums this up, "The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply." We all need to start listening to each other more and talk less. As simple as it sounds, it is one of the most difficult things to learn to do. But it is not impossible.
As parents, teachers and mentors we can teach our kids to actively listen while someone else is sharing their opinion. One of the best ways to do this is to practice taking turns while having a conversation at home with your kids. With young minds they often forget the thought if they don’t blurt it out immediately, but practice taking pauses with them so they can finish listening to what the other person is saying. Have them scribble down the ideas if that helps them to remember their own thoughts.
If you are having a family conversation, encourage kids to relay the message they heard from the other person, ask a relevant question or share their opinion. This helps them to practice active listening.
It is with listening that we can build trust, learn new skills and gain new insights.
Kids often learn by watching how parents behave or adults around them behave. If you are having a discussion on age-appropriate topics, don't shy away from arguing with your partner. Rather demonstrate what constructive arguments look like. The worst thing you can do is tell your kids that arguments are bad, rather tell them how to express arguments in a positive way.
You can set-up some ground rules when you teach your kids to express differing opinions. The first and the foremost rule is that it's about the topic and not about the person. Encourage kids to use language that focuses on the issue of discussion rather than the person who is sharing a different point of view.
Teach kids to use respectful and polite language, and ask them to acknowledge the other person’s perspective, even if they don't agree with it. Tell kids how they should be asking clarifying questions in order to gain more knowledge about the other person's point of view. Make it known to them that it is okay for different people to have different opinions and we need people who can share opposing perspectives to have a better understanding of the matter at hand.
It is with constructive arguments that the best opinions evolve.
We are all humans, so we all have an opinion of our own. There will be times when your kids will disagree with you. Like I said, the best way to teach constructive discussion is to model it for them. So, when that happens let that be your moment to step up to the challenge.
Stay focused on the topic at hand and listen to what they have to say. You do not need to agree with them, but you can provide them with reasons why you think what you think. At the same time encourage them to explain to you why they believe in a certain way. I know what you are thinking, this is tedious, and I agree. But in the long run this will prepare them to build essential critical thinking skills.
You can take it a step further, and work with your kiddos to find examples and evidence to support their arguments. Show them how it’s done and what resources to be used. That could be books, articles, research on the internet, or asking a third person. This has two benefits. One, it allows both you and your kiddo to learn more about the topic. Second, it allows you to dive into how to differentiate relevant and irrelevant information on the internet, which is by the way, a whole different conversation.
Make home a safe space for any discussion because it is here that your kids will learn to build these habits.
The most important thing to know is learning is a process, it's not going to happen in a day, a week or a year. Stay consistent with these practices with your kids. I have hope that we will be raising a generation that can talk to each other openly and not find any topic polarizing. Who knows, maybe while we mentor our kids, we might learn to do it ourselves.
When I am not teaching writing classes, I love having conversations about challenging gender equity, promoting diversity in ideas and raising the next generation of thinkers. Want to learn more about our story writing classes? Check us out here.
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