Saturday, June 25, 2016

Are We Liber? Or Chattel?

Ancients drew a distinction between those fit to be free, to self-rule, and those who must have someone always supervising them. Liber, the former, were people of learning, people of the book, and chattel are the latter, those who must be controlled by someone. Race was irrelevant in ancient ideas of slavery. The key was whether you had an education--which idea unfortunately followed the slavers to America, and made educating a slave a criminal offense. 

Education is seen as crucial to success in life.  Today few Americans are farmers and ranchers, and even they usually have extensive understanding of the science involved in their trade and often employ accountants - they need an education too. But education in what? That's the part that no one can agree on. When we say "education" do we really mean "training"? Teaching reading, writing, and 'rithmetic--is that truly educating? What shall we read - trendy novels and magazines? What about computer programming, cooking, and comprehensive sexuality education (known around here as "Family Life Education")--do those count toward becoming an educated person?


In Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons says “Education, that vague and official word for what goes on in our schools, has been a trinket on the shelves of snake oil salesmen and a plaything for social planners in America for over a century. They have been driven by the spirit of ceaseless innovation. And we have paid a high price. The peddlers have shrouded the higher and subtler goals of learning which former generations accepted and promoted. These bringers of the New have traded in the ancient ideal of wisdom for a spurious 'adjustment' of the mind, settling for fitting us with the most menial of skills needful for the world of the interchangeable part. They have decided we are less, not more, than wiser people have hoped humanity might have become.  We are masses to be housed and fed, not minds and souls seeking something beyond ourselves.” 


I believe in the definition of education that was prevalent in the time of the ancient Greeks, that the purpose of education is to instill virtue in a person.  How is this to be done? Reading, discussing, writing, discussing, going deep into a subject, doing an internship or other hands-on experience, discussing, giving service, and discussing.  Why so much discussion? First, because (supposedly) you remember 80% of what you said in a discussion, and only 20% of what the other person said. And second, because it allows the person to process what they have just learned, to tease apart what may have been truth or error in it, and to formulate and defend their own ideas about it. Sometimes the mentor plays the devil's advocate, sometimes not, but either way a person is better prepared to meet the world after he has followed this process. In Dorothy Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning" she says:


For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.  



It makes me wonder...how many of the PhD's out there would Ms. Sayers view as being susceptible to propaganda because they've not been through a process of learning to take a bird's eye view of an idea, then zoom in and examine if from all perspectives. This is hard mental work, and few are willing to pay the price, but rather will swallow the lamest sound-bite as if it were gospel truth. I believe this is one reason we as humans always return to tribalism, especially in difficult times. We've no time or patience to dig for truth, especially if it's on the other side of the fence from where we stand. We'll just go along with the herd, staying in the center for protection from the wolves.

Here's another viewpoint on that idea:
“One of the chief objects of education is to train flexibility of mind, to make a man quick to comprehend other points of view than his own. Obviously, no power is more necessary in dealing with men. To be able to discard for the moment his own opinions, and see the world through the eyes of other classes, races, or types, is as indispensable to the merchant as to the statesman; for men are hardly to be controlled or influenced unless they are understood. And yet no power is rarer. It is almost non-existent among uneducated people. A man who has not risen above the elementary school is hardly ever able to seize an attitude of mind at all different to his own; he may acquiesce in it because he trusts or respects the character of the person in question, but he does not understand it; he cannot perform the great feat for which our intellectual gymnasia train us, of being in two (or more) people’s skins at the same time. And this is not due to the absence of any organ from his body, but simply to the fact that he has never practiced the art.” Sir Richard Winn Livingstone, “A Defense of Classical Education” 1917


To sum up (sort-of) this idea of the reasons and major methodology to become an educated person, let me just say that at some point in this life or the next we must all face the fact that, though we know very little compared to God, we have a responsibility to grow our own intelligence through reading His words along with the best that has been written by members of the human race, and incorporating the principles that resonate with us. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Last thoughts on "Scaffolding Math"

I recently presented a class on math education during the STEM seminar at the Latter-day Saint Home Educators conference.  The transcript, handout, and PowerPoint are linked in the side bar, but I found so many great quotes (that I wanted to use but ran out of time) that I feel like putting a few of them up on my blog.

From the Mathematical Association of America website:
Japanese cognitive psychologist, Giyoo Hatano, gave the following five "characterizations" of long-term knowledge acquisition, with which, he felt, most cognitive psychologists would agree. And with which, most mathematics education researchers would agree.

Knowledge is acquired by construction, not by transmission alone. Compelling evidence for this is provided by the work on procedural bugs and misconceptions -- it is highly unlikely that students acquire them from direct teaching. For example, young children often make systematic subtraction errors, the most common of which is always subtracting the smaller digit from the larger, regardless of position, and many preservice elementary teachers believe "division (always) makes smaller." Surely, no one taught them this.

Knowledge acquisition involves restructuring -- not only does the amount of a person's knowledge gradually increase, it gets reorganized. Children do not think like miniature or incomplete adults. For example, in attributing unknown properties to animate objects, Hatano found young children rely on similarity-based inference, whereas older children and adults use category-based inference. He finds studies of conceptual change, both in the history of science and in cognitive development, especially relevant because fundamental conceptual change is perhaps the most radical kind of (mental) restructuring. [Cf. Carey, "Conceptual differences between children and adults," Mind and Language 3, 1988; Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1970.]

The process of knowledge acquisition is constrained both internally, by what one already knows, and externally, by cultural artifacts such as shared language and notation. This explains, in part, why different individuals acquire similar, but not identical, knowledge.

Knowledge is domain specific. This serves cognitive economy -- in problem solving, one need only access relevant knowledge. However, what is acquired in one domain can be transferred to another (e.g., through analogy) or generalized to a variety of domains (e.g., by abstracting structural commonalties).

Knowledge acquisition is "situated," i.e., it reflects how it was originally acquired and has been used -- it consists not only of abstract rules, laws, and formulas, but also of personal experiences. Becoming an expert, say in mathematics or physics, may be a process of "desituating" one's knowledge to make it less context-bound, less tied to surface features.


From the Stella's Stunners website:
There are several reasons for students' resistance to problem solving. One is that some hard work may well be involved — how much is unknown. Students these days are typically overbooked, overscheduled, and caught up in the spell cast by e-mails, texting, Facebook, video games, and all of the other engrossing ways of spending time. Who wants to sit and stare at a problem, waiting for an idea to hit? Another inhibitor is that we simply do not like to be in situations where we feel frustrated and incompetent. And related to this discomfort, for some students, is the fact that hard thinking evokes other problems with considerably more emotional weight: "Why didn't Dad come home last night?" "What if Mom loses her job?" "What if I'm pregnant?" It can be difficult in such circumstances to entice students to engage in problem solving, thinking in ways not previously experienced, for an unknown length of time, and with no certainty of success.
But education is all about training minds to be imaginative, savvy, persistent, and resourceful — exactly the characteristics our public leaders say our students lack. Trudging through mathematics textbooks, year after year, is not in itself going to help students become the skilled mathematicians, scientists, technicians, or even literate citizens our global economy requires. It is the opportunity to grapple with and solve non-routine problems, problems that are not necessarily clearly defined, that provides students, our prospective adults, with the intellectual robustness that our country needs in its citizens.

From "The Teaching of Arithmetic I: The Story of an Experiment, by L.P. Benezet
I went into a certain eighth-grade room one day and was accompanied by a stenographer who took down, verbatim, the answers given me by the children. I was trying to get the children to tell me, in their own words, that if you have two fractions with the same numerator, the one with the smaller denominator is the larger. I quote typical answers. 
• "The smaller number in fractions is always the largest." 
 • "If you had one thing and cut it into pieces the smaller piece will be the bigger. I mean the one you could cut the least pieces in would be the bigger pieces." 
• "The denominator that is smallest is the largest." 
The average layman will think that this must have been a group of half-wits, but I can assure you that it is typical of the attempts of fourteen-year-old children from any part of the country to put their ideas into English. The trouble was not with the children or with the teacher; it was with the curriculum. If the course of study required that the children master long division before leaving the fourth grade and fractions before finishing the fifth, then the teacher had to spend hours and hours on this work to the neglect of giving children practice in speaking the English language.
...I feel that it is all nonsense to take eight years to get children through the ordinary arithmetic assignment of the elementary schools. What possible need has a ten-year-old child for a knowledge of long division? The whole subject of arithmetic could be postponed until the seventh year of school, and it could be mastered in two years' study by any normal child.


And from an article in USAToday:
Math as rules starts early. Kids learn in elementary school that you can "add a zero to multiply by ten." And it's true, 237 x 10 = 2370. Never mind why. But then when kids learn decimals, the rule fails: 2.37 x 10 is not 2.370. One approach is to simply add another rule. But that's not the best way.

Common Core saves us from plug-and-chug. In fact, math is based on a collection of ideas that do make sense. The rules come from the ideas. Common Core asks students to learn math this way, with both computational fluency and understanding of the ideas.


Learning math this way leads to deeper understanding, obviates the need for endless rule-memorizing and provides the intellectual flexibility to apply math in new situations, ones for which the rules need to be adapted. (It's also a lot more fun.) Combining computational fluency with understanding makes for problem solvers who can genuinely use their math. This is what businesses want and what is necessary to use math in a quantitative discipline.


Here is what good math learning produces: Students who can compute correctly and wisely, choosing the best way to do a given computation; students who can explain what they are doing when they solve a problem or use math to analyze a situation; and students who have the flexibility and understanding to find the best approach to a new problem.


I thoroughly agree with all of the above--including the attempt to revamp math education in the U.S.--but with one caveat. It's impossible to TEACH math in a way that gets a GROUP of children to understand--to deeply rather than superficially understand.  Each person must build their own structure of understanding within their own brain--it cannot be mass produced. Sorry educators, you have good intentions, and the OUTCOME you're after is the right one. But it's not within your power to construct something in someone else's brain.
Individual tutoring was for centuries the education of rich men's children, and the results were and continue to be superior to teaching in groups. The human brain is the most complex structure in the universe, so finding even two children who are at exactly the same point in their understanding of math concepts, so that you can instruct them together, is fruitless. Even teaching one child is very hit and miss--you still must find a way to know exactly where he's at so that you can help him move his understanding of the topic along.
I strongly believe that when teaching DOES yield deep learning, it is a serendipitous combination of things that were happening in the child's real life (life outside of school is real)--problems he was faced with, things he was thinking about, etc.--together with just the right topic being presented at the right time with the right spin by the right person. Anything else leads to the "memorize, test, forget" cycle. Since all those "rights" rarely occur, most of the math understanding we move forward in our lives with is something we created in our down-time: playing games, building things, pondering on why numbers do this or that, etc.
As Lev Vygotsky said, “Practical experience … shows that direct teaching of concepts is impossible and fruitless. A teacher who tries to do this usually accomplishes nothing but empty verbalism, a parrot-like repetition of words by the child, simulating a knowledge of the corresponding concepts but actually covering up a vacuum.”

Teachers do a great deal of good in the practical day-to-day running of the world, but if schools were abolished, children would still learn. As Hugh Nibley said, "My only job as a teacher is to save my students time." In other words, a teacher is someone to point you in the right direction when you're on a quest to learn something. The key: it has to be the LEARNER'S quest, not the teacher's, or nothing of importance will happen in the learner's mind.



Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Christmas Kids

Once upon a time three small children needed a new home at Christmas time. They found a family with one small and several big children, and spent a lovely time with them over the holidays. Though there were a lot of things to recover from, they healed and relaxed and changed and grew. Nearly a year passed. Then it was time to go home again. 
The family missed them and they missed the family, though they were happy to be back with their mom. A few weeks after they went home, it was Christmas time again. The family was able to pick them up and take them to see the lights at the temple, and they had a grand time together.
Time passed--almost one year to be exact. They needed a new home again. God had been watching out for them, and this family was again ready to welcome kids into their home. So they came back, and the party commenced again! The whole community rallied around them, and many friends arrived with gifts for the children. 
On Christmas morning there were so many gifts under the tree that the children had to spread out into another room and make stacks of their gifts. The disembowling took over an hour, even at top speed! The kids had a long, fun day together, and are set to begin again to heal and relax and change and grow.

Thanks to everyone who helped make these kids super happy yesterday. We don't know the outcome of this placement--one never does. But the transition has been very smooth this time, and we don't expect things to be nearly as difficult (for them and us) as last time.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Standing on One Foot

This has been a strange year.  My husband went back to work today for the first time this year.  He was laid off from his job right before Christmas (chief economist for the National Mining Association--Obama said before he was elected that he was going to kill coal, and his efforts in that department have had large ripples). The unemployment went on much longer than we had anticipated, and we'd have done some things differently if we'd known how long it was going to be.  But the most difficult thing about it was exactly that--the unknown. That's what made me feel as if I were balancing on one foot, just a bit unstable. Not knowing where the next step was going to be, so unable to set that other foot down anywhere.

The finances were a stress, but not a super big one since we had some personal savings.  Believe me, there's been many times in our marriage that we've been living from paycheck to paycheck, but (a blessing!) this wasn't one of them. For nearly the first 20 years of our marriage I worked to make ends meet while Paul was in school and internships, etc.  I hated being away from our kids, so I would just work enough to pay the bills, but no more.  So though we had retirement building up, there was nothing to carry us over speed bumps.  Having the savings available was a huge blessing when the paychecks stopped coming this time.

And speaking of time, it was wonderful to have my husband around!  I had always wondered if we were going to drive each other crazy when he retired; now I know that we'll be fine.  He spent his days applying for jobs, fixing the car, doing woodworking, fixing the lawnmower (again), doing family history and service projects for church, and applying for jobs.  And more jobs.  But we also played with our kids a lot--inexpensive or free stuff like hiking was great.  Paul was able to have that window of quiet in his life that I have had the last few years since I quit working (well, quiet is a relative term) to just enjoy being a dad to one cute little guy and four cute big ones.

So the real challenge was not the lack of anything in our lives, but the addition of something: uncertainty.  Would we move to Texas? To Idaho? Would we stay here but with less income so we'd need to sell (I made some home improvements this summer in preparation for that possibility).  Women like stability, so this was the hardest one for me.  I've felt happy, and calm, and grateful for blessings.  But whenever I felt that I could begin to touch the toe of the other foot to the ground--just start to be more stable--that ground would shift and I'd be left in the balancing mode. I couldn't make plans, and I love plans.

The worst indecision was feeling like maybe I should go back to work as a critical care nurse--just dive in and take care of our family. I could do it. I've done it before. But I have a four year old, and he's very attached to his mommy.  The biggest thing was that I knew if I went back to work, I'd resent it.  I'd resent Paul for losing his job.  I'd resent everyone who didn't keep NMA in a position to keep him employed there, and everyone who wasn't hiring him for every job he applied for.  I prayed about what I should do, and got strong promptings to keep the faith: in Paul that he'd find a job, in Heavenly Father that he would bless us. I would be willing to go back to work only if we had tried everything else, including selling the house and living on the equity for a while.  At least if that were to happen, it would buy me some more time in raising our little guy through these important early years.

We're still not "out of the woods" (though we can still live in the woods--our woods). This job is just a place-holder for a better one that will hopefully come along soon--it's in the works, but nothing is certain.  But I'm so grateful for a regular paycheck that I felt I should shout that to the world.  So I wrote a blog post about it. ;-)


Friday, November 6, 2015

Job 28, Education, and Opportunity Costs

I love this passage in Job 28:
But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me....
Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air....God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof... And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.

Recently I was reading an article in a Northern Virginia magazine about how to get your child into some of the top private schools in the area.  The writer was hyperventilating about how great some of these schools are, and it made me smile--and feel sad--and think about the wisdom of this path.  Job said that wisdom is difficult to find--can it be found at school?  If we do put our children in school in order that they may gain in wisdom (and what other worthy reason could there be?) let's hope that they are successful, since if there's one thing the study of economics has taught me it's that every decision has "opportunity costs."  If I choose that thing, with my time, my money, my energy, I will not then be able to choose that other thing with that same time, money, and energy.  You have to look at not just what is GAINED in a particular decision, but also what is LOST.

Parents are constantly confronted with information touting the benefits of the schools--especially the private ones.  But let's look first at the opportunity costs, then back at the wisdom question.

*Time is what life is made of. There are a limited number of minutes between when your child is born and when he leaves your home for good. But there are forces out there demanding your child's time, telling parents that if their children don't spend most of their time in classrooms when they are 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 that they will be crippled in their future prospects. When we hear "education" with our ears, we think "money" with our brains: a good education is supposed to provide a good future income. And this is true, in many cases, for higher education--but patently false for your child's first years, and her second years. In fact, Ivy League schools are openly recruiting students who have had a "non-traditional education," knowing that the factors that make one successful in college and beyond are often not well learned by those who've been sitting at desks for most of the day, most of the year, most of their lives.

(Tangent Alert! The other under-emphasized fact is that the four to eight years spent at a desk between the ages of 18 and 26 is often a waste of time too. Just Google "successful college drop-outs" and you'll see some phenomenal lists, starting with Steve Jobs. I'm not opposed to college the way I am to lots of formal schooling before college, because at these ages people have developed their own goals, and college can often get them to where they want to go. I am very grateful for the wonderful experiences that my 22 year old is having at BYU--learning things he's passionate about from brilliant professors, being immersed in an atmosphere of learning and righteousness, taking advantage of all the art and culture that is available there. He is not wasting his time at college. But many do, and the exchange of years of your time plus tens of thousands of your dollars in exchange for a degree in "white studies" or some other silliness is a poor one, especially when moral degradation is rampant in the environment you're immersed in: the lies of race and gender politics, socialism, and sexual promiscuity are daily fare on many campuses. Not wise....That was a tangent.)

So we must think about what is LOST in making the choice to send our children to school: time. Many of the children the article discussed didn't even attend a school that is close to them, but also spent time commuting before and after school. Then there's lessons, sports, and homework (my biggest peeve--if they can't get their learning done in 7 hours at school, why spend that 7 hours at school!).  At this rate the time spent as a family is minuscule.  Study after study has confirmed that in families who eat dinner together--just 20 minutes or so a day--the children fare much better on a host of desired outcomes from emotional health and avoidance of self-destructive behaviors to their grades in school.  Think about unleashing the power of family on a large scale by spending much of each day together--either at home or out and about--it's a powerful thing.

So family time is sacrificed on the altar of school, but perhaps even more important is that personal time is lost--the time children spend developing their own person.  They lose playtime, which is the most important time for brain-building in childhood.  They lose pondering time, to think about themselves and their family and their world and their Heavenly Father.  They lose time in nature; time to develop the scientist within by making observations and predictions and being able to observe outcomes.  The only use that is made of the amazing human hand, for the most part, is in holding a pencil and being raised to obtain permission to go to the bathroom. What about development of the cerebellum that comes through manipulating objects from Legos to clay to fabric and yarn? Building, sculpting, sewing and crocheting all strengthen neural pathways that improve memory. 

The slow pace of life a few generations ago (hard work, but not frenetic) has been replaced with rush, rush, rush, do this task, check this box, something going on every minute. Is it really wise to spend childhood this way? Does it teach wisdom?

*Autonomy (a.k.a. creativity, independent thinking, entrepreneurship) is also lost in the trade-off to put children in school. As just mentioned, if a child is not free to use his time how he sees fit, he will not be able to direct his energies toward the playing, creating, and daydreaming that I believe are so important.  There is concern by many that the younger generation is not developing the thought processes that lead to innovation and creativity (this TED talk has been viewed 35 million times).  For the past twenty years or so there has been an increasing emphasis on the group, on working together, on cooperation.  It's as if educrats think they can unite the brains of children to function as one, like in the book A Wrinkle In Time. It's been creeping me out that I'm seeing this in the field of math education now as well. It's one thing to assign a group to work together to build a diorama or something (though usually one person ends up doing most of the work) but I've been reading about math becoming the new method of teaching "social justice." Group math problems are assigned, and each child is given a role: one person comes up with different strategies, one person evaluates the strategies, one person performs the calculations, one person takes notes, one person bosses everyone else around, etc.  No one "owns" the process.  Failure and success are equally spread between students, so no one is really invested in the effort, since it will not be to his benefit or detraction very much.

I'm not going to go into why I think this is type of teaching is trendy, but simply observe that what is left out in the cold is innovation.  Even the most creative role here (coming up with strategies) is handicapped by having to get them past "the committee."  Groupthink is never going to equal one mind soaring into imagination, and the new ideas that come from that. See this article from The Economist, speaking to Europe's "chronic failure to encourage ambitious entrepreneurs."  See this stunning example of a youth who has never been taught that his own efforts will equal his own failures and successes (maybe lots of group math projects in his background?).  And here is an article that talks about a Sudbury school, where children are completely in charge of their own education.

It's easy to see two things: #1 we do need to learn to work with others, and #2 we do need time and opportunity to daydream and create. Most children are fresh and creative in the morning, so that's the opportunity cost at work when we give those creative hours to the school so the kids can sit at a desk and be told exactly what to do. #2 is sacrificed for #1. (See this article about the purpose of school, which leads into...)

*Truth-seeking is not something that happens at school very much. The general public thinks that schools are for conveying information (which doesn't necessarily correlate with truth), but as the above article points out, the passive nature of this information conveyance is one reason for the lack of retention beyond the test. But it goes deeper than that. Because of the desire to convey information to thirty kids at once, teachers cut truth corners. They dispense with the correct understanding of truth: that it's a journey. Teachers often leave out contrary opinions to the "facts" presented, simply because they don't have the time or interest in getting into them.  For example, the teaching of history is often simplified so much (and turned into sociopolitical propaganda) that if the ghosts of the people who lived then were listening to the discussion, they wouldn't recognize themselves and their time.  In math classes kids are taught not only that there is only one solution to a math "problem" but that there is only one WAY to properly solve it (if you think there's only one solution to any given problem, you should read Flatterland, by Ian Stewart).  Science...don't even get me started. No nuances, no flexibility, no recognition that what is presented as a fact today may be scorned as nonsense in a future generation.

The worst offender is the beastly invention called a textbook. Written by committees, it suffers from the same problems noted above about groupthink, but the worst of it is the anonymity.  If a book has one person's name on the cover, you understand that it is one person's opinion about the topic, and shouldn't be taken as gospel.  Without that reality check, naive people (like children) get the impression that everything between the covers is the absolute, objective truth that everyone on the planet agrees upon.

I recently was reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (so good, and horrifying). In the introduction she discusses how she was able to leave China to study at a university in England--linguistics was her major--where she had a huge epiphany.
I remember the day that I went to discuss the plan for my thesis with my supervisor, Professor Le Page, who, through his sensitive presence alone, had already begun to help dispel the perpetual anxiety and sudden panic that were embedded in me.  His mildly ironic manner and understated authority constantly reassured me, as England did, that I had come to a just place, and that I had nothing to worry about.  Feeling totally relaxed, I babbled on about my views on the linguistic theories I was supposed to survey.  He listened, and at the end asked me, "Couldn't you show my your thesis?"  I was nonplussed, and exclaimed, "But I haven't started it yet!"  He said, "But you have all the conclusions."
That single remark untied a strangling knot fastened around my brain by a totalitarian "education." We in China had been trained not to draw conclusions from facts, but to start with Marxist theories or Mao thoughts or the Party line and to deny, even condemn, the facts that did not suit them.
This same game is played in American education, to a lesser, but still significant extent. Consider a typical school test.  A child must read a question and pick one of four answers as the right one. There is disgrace in choosing three of the four, including the possibility of having the limited amount of time he has available to follow his own interests replaced by the memorization of more "facts" about the subject. That is called punishment, and without thinking we do this to kids every day. So they memorize those facts to the tune of the carrot and the stick, and I believe this shuts out the deeper thinking that may have occurred regarding the topic if a free discussion and hands-on exploration were the methodology pursued--without the threat of a quiz at the end.

From the above Washington Post article:
From my 30-year career, I was clear about what young adults will need in the 21st Century. Yet, I kept seeing variants of that darn 3rd grade simple-machines lesson. Creative expansive thinking turning into narrow, prescriptive “right answers,”. Inquisitiveness shriveling up into “Will this be on the test?” A joy for learning worn down into time-efficient hoop-jumping. A willingness to take intellectual risks morphing into formulaic responses without risk of embarrassment.
How, then, would the teacher assess understanding without right and wrong answers filled in on a bubble sheet?  Well, does a good grade on a quiz equal understanding of a topic?  Or that the student will remember anything about it a year later?  That's going off on another tangent, but the main point is that the stress surrounding learning is NOT conducive to good learning, to deep thinking.  So we get generations of shallow thinkers, programmed to knee-jerk answers and sound-bite comebacks, without a thought to seeking underlying truths.

What to do? Do you have to begin every sentence with "Some people believe that..."? No, but you state on a regular basis that we need to be humble about what we think we know, since new ideas could emerge that would require us to consider them.  And you pull out some good examples like how everyone used to be taught that everyone used to believe that the world was flat, but in fact many ancient people understood that it is a sphere.  And how just a few years ago, cholesterol caused heart attacks, but now it doesn't (funny how that happens...).  And then discussion, discussion, discussion--stating what you think to be true, poking at it to see where you might have a weak spot, etc.  Often the right answer is "None of the above."

*Wisdom is always in short supply.  I'm quite certain that I'm not wise, but that awareness causes me to "seek learning even by study and also by faith." That takes time, it takes being independent-minded, and it takes a strong desire to search for truth. I pray that we give our children this opportunity to seek wisdom as well, and not just in the small spaces between other activities, but as part and parcel of what they do every day.