A Lesson in Critical Lunching (Overview)
At first, I was horrified when I read the articles. Another teacher had assigned my students some readings that were full of logical fallacies, misleading information, and inappropriately cited scientific studies. The horrifying prospect was that I now had to use those articles in my own classes, and I would soon be reading hundreds of student essays based on them. I could see why that teacher had chosen them, they fit the many qualifications (length, difficulty level, recency, relevance, interest, etc.) that were needed, but now I was stuck with a very awkward situation as a skeptical teacher.
In trying to find a way out of my circumstances, I developed a crash course in critical thinking. I had to do the heavy lifting myself, since my students (mostly) didn’t yet have enough critical thinking skills to pick up on all the problems with the arguments they had been presented. In making and implementing my plan, I found that these horrendously misleading articles could actually make great teaching materials.
Note: At the time of posting I am in my final grading period of the term (I have to finish 500 essays this week alone) so this post is only going to be an overview of the unit plan.
The lesson aim is for students to develop specific critical thinking skills. Which skills and how they develop them are at the teacher’s discretion.
Topic: Articles about why workers shouldn’t eat lunch at their desks.
- All of the ones I read (and my students read) were full of fallacious reasoning in a variety of ways. Basically, almost every kind of bad thinking and bad reporting skeptics complain about can be found in these articles.
- There’s loads of them, and people keep making derivatives off of old ones with the same bad arguments.
- This is not a hot-button issue. It isn’t about to challenge deeply held religious or political beliefs and won’t likely cause phone calls from parents.
- Most of the issues involved are easy to grasp and don’t need a deep dive or complicated discussion to figure out. There is also room for subtlety and going into more complex ideas.
- This topic is generally relatable to students’ current and future lives, and can be at least somewhat interesting.
Potential Leading Questions:
- What assumptions are a reader expected to make from this article?
- How can a reader determine whether the content is accurate or not?
- What responsibility is there for an opinion piece to reflect accurate scientific information?
- What are the logical fallacies that the writer makes and how could they be fixed?
- Bearing in mind the problems in its arguments, what reasonable conclusions could be drawn from the article?
- What other evidence would be needed for the studies mentioned to support the arguments?
- How are the statistics misleading, and how could their real significance be clarified?
- What evidence is presented that actually supports the “other side” of this issue?
- What role does preference play in workers decisions?
- What are other explanations for the data that the article didn’t address?
- What is your own opinion about this, and how do you support it with evidence?
- What are the most misleading aspects of the article?
- What are strong reasons that support both sides of this debate?
- What are the historical, sociological, and cultural circumstances that led to the creation of this article?
Objectives, explanations, activities, assignments, and more will follow in coming weeks. I will try to adjust my plans to be as open and flexible as possible so teachers could actually use them for other topics.