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  • Writer's pictureNathan Lang-Raad

Empowering Students to Challenge Ideas with Respect and Skepticism

As teachers, we frequently encourage our students to examine the world around them and to question the assumptions they make. One of the best ways we can model this for our students is to challenge them to question us as educators. Both Christopher Hitchens and Carl Sagan, two important thinkers of the 20th century, give insightful advice on how we might encourage students to question and debate issues in a way that is both helpful, respectful, and kind.

Hitchens was of the opinion that disagreement was an essential part of any vibrant and functional society. In the book titled “Letters to a Contrarian,” he makes the case that the ability to dissent, to be suspicious, and to challenge authority is a vital component of what it is to be an engaged and active citizen. We can help our students acquire the skills necessary to become independent thinkers, and engaged citizens, by encouraging them to challenge authority in a safe place—the classroom.

Skepticism was something that Carl Sagan, a well-known astronomer and science communicator, held to be necessary in both the scientific community and in everyday life. He said that skepticism helps us to discern fancy from fact, to test our theories, to avoid being taken in by flimflam artists, and to learn from our failures. We can assist our students in developing the abilities they need to challenge assumptions and analyze evidence if we teach them to be skeptical, and promote skepticism through classroom activities, tasks, and projects.How can we encourage students to question with skepticism, challenge assumptions, analyze evidence, and interact with their teachers in a way that is both useful and courteous?

The following are some strategies you can use in the classroom:

  • Create a culture of questioning: Urge your students to question and challenge their assumptions from the very first day of the new school year in order to establish a culture of inquiry in your classroom. Make it quite apparent that challenging you is not only tolerated but actively encouraged.

  • Civil Debate: Teach your students how to engage in courteous discussion and debate, and how to criticize ideas without criticizing the individual. Set an example for them to follow by modeling respectful debate. Make it very apparent that dissenting opinions are an inevitable component of interacting with other people and the expression of ideas.

  • Provide opportunities for dissent: Give your students the opportunity to express differing opinions in a manner that is safe and respectful. Give your students the opportunity to express dissenting perspectives. For instance, you may have students participate in a debate or urge them to write an essay in which they argue for the opposing viewpoint on a certain issue.

  • Explicitly teaching critical thinking skills: Teaching students how to assess evidence, identify credible sources, reason logically, and make informed decisions may be accomplished with the help of a critical thinking framework. We can help students acquire the knowledge and abilities necessary to critique ideas in a constructive and considerate manner as a result of this.

Below is a is a specific task that let’s students respectfully and constructively question you, their teacher:

  • Start by picking a topic, such as a historical occurrence, a scientific theory, or a literary composition. For example, the significance of conserving natural habitats and ecosystems, as well as the contribution of conservation to the preservation of biodiversity and the fight against climate change, might be discussed with students by reading a piece of text or viewing a video.

  • Students then formulate questions for you on the subject, concentrating on topics like the effect of human activities on the environment, the significance of conservation efforts to safeguard endangered species, and the steps that people and communities can take to lessen their environmental impact. The point is to help students think critically about how human actions affect the natural world and help them cultivate a sense of environmental responsibility.

  • Give each student a chance to ask a question during this task. I’d encourage the use of a collaborative discussion board to save time (this can be done synchronously or asynchronously) and promote rich discussion.

  • Encourage them to pose open-ended inquiries that need a thorough answer from you, their teacher.

  • Give the other students a chance to comment or raise other questions once you have responded to the initial query. Promote civil and fruitful discussion.

  • Ask your students to reflect on what they learned and how the exercise improved their inquiry and discussion skills.

Encouraging students to pose questions to their teachers is an essential component of a classroom that is vital to learning. We can help our students acquire the skills they need to become independent thinkers and involved citizens if we provide an environment where discourse and discussion are encouraged. Dissent and skepticism are necessary components of any healthy society, and it is our duty as educators to encourage these principles in the behaviors of our students. My newest book, Never Stop Asking, provides a critical thinking framework along with many more activities to help support your students in inquiry and reasoning.

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