With my Honors classes, I extend the requirements to cover distinguishing between fact, opinion, belief, and bias. We create a matrix, and plot the characteristics of each. The longest part of the discussion is when we debate fact vs belief: facts and beliefs are both "true," but only facts are provable. I think this is the part of the curriculum that pushes their thinking the most, because they have to define the concept of "true."
Next year, I will definitely incorporate this segment from NPR: "Belief in Climate Change Hinges on Worldview." It's not about climate change so much as about fact, belief, and bias.
"People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their world view," Braman says.I think reading this article, coupled with creating the matrix, would be a great opportunity to develop the students' metacognition- can they think about their own thinking?
"Basically the reason that people react in a close-minded way to information is that the implications of it threaten their values," says Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University and a member of The Cultural Cognition Project.
Students in my Honors class tend to be more knowledgeable about current issues because they have these conversations at home, but they aren't necessarily more open-minded. In my class, we discuss the value of being open-minded. I tell my students, "Basically, I want to push your walls of your brain wider and make some room for other ideas, not just the stuff that's already in there." They tell me, "You're making my brain hurt." Well, no pain, no gain, kids.
I designed one brain-pushing activity to point out to them the ratio of fact to opinion in persuasive writing. I took 2 editorials about nationalizing health care (one by Newt Gingrich and one by...some other guy) and spaced out all the sentences. Then, students cut the sentences into strips. They sorted the strips into 2 groups: fact and opinion. The students worked in partners and had to think very hard about the statements to decide. Some statements were a mix, and some students chose to cut those strips in half and count them as a half. In the end, we tallied the facts and opinions from each piece. I felt particularly proud that the tallies were identical for most groups in the room. They knew the difference. Those that had significantly different tallies got some more instruction.
Although not everything I have taught this year worked out so well, I feel that I made a difference in this instance. I think my students are more willing, and therefore more able, to listen open-mindedly. They'll learn more that way. I'm not sure how the instruction affected their views on certain topics, like health care and global warming, but I've observed them being slower to make statements and quicker to ask questions when we discuss controversial things. I believe that's an important part of teaching.