Varda Epstein

Avoiding the sheeplefication of our children

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(photo credit: s_bukley /

In the wake of the current brouhaha over Phil Robertson’s A&E suspension (real or supposed) I am left once again, thinking about critical thinking. As usual, the usual suspects are lined up on either side of the debate. There is the left wing, up in arms over the opinions of a guy on a TV show they never watch. And there is the right wing, in a furor over the inequity of a man losing his job for something he said.

As a parent, my concerns are different. I worry about the momentum of popular thought and how it will affect the ability of my children to apply critical thinking. What if my children use the critical thinking skills that have been drummed into them at home and at school and come to unpopular personal conclusions? Will they have the fortitude to stick up for beliefs that fly in the face of politically correct doctrine—perhaps even in the face of ad hominem insults?

Bloom's taxonomy (photo credit: shutterstock)
Bloom’s taxonomy (photo credit: shutterstock)

Or will it ultimately prove too great a burden to bear, the act of espousing an unusual viewpoint? Will my children decide that Bloom’s taxonomy is no longer relevant in a world where viewpoints are already decided and served up whole? Will they simply find it easier to give in and adopt the mainstream dogma?

There is a terrible pressure today to conform. Those who try to buck the politically correct line of thought have their views twisted into pretzels and served back at them in new, unpalatable forms that were never intended by the original thought offering. One has to be so darned smart just to hold the line. It’s hard.

Terribly hard.

My children have begun to experience the self-same debates I myself have experienced on the Internet in which it no longer matters which side is right; it only matters who can argue better, who is smarter and more intelligent, and sometimes who is louder.

PWNED (photo credit: shutterstock)
PWNED (photo credit: shutterstock)

There is no gray; no respect for perspective. There are only winners and losers. PWN or be PWNED.

A lot of it is about the cheering section: which side has the loudest applause? It can be awfully lonely on the wrong side of the arena. How can a parent impart the idea that there is no merit to switching sides just to get some respite from the unrelenting castigation for the espousal of an unpopular view?

More to the point, how can children be bolstered and strengthened so as not to give in on a point that leaves rational sense in the dust? How can we enforce the idea that being moral sometimes means being on the outside of popular thought? Can a parent succeed in teaching children that sticking to beliefs is good even in the face of ugly condemnation?

Parenting is a journey and often we have many more questions than answers. Still, experience remains the best teacher and I am a mother of 12 children. Here are some of the things I do to encourage critical thinking in my children:

1) Be an example. Step up to the plate and debate. Tell your children about it.

Striving for truth is more important than beating your opponent (photo credit: shutterstock)

2) Know the difference between a debate that strives for truth and one that is all about beating an opponent. Being smarter or more manipulative doesn’t make one right.

3) Explain the rudiments of polite debate. Facts you can back are good, ad hominem attacks are bad.

4) There can be more than one correct perspective. The best thing that can happen in a debate is that you persuade the other side to your viewpoint. The second best thing that can happen is that you both realize you both have valid perspectives and that one does not negate the other.

5) Support your child. It hurts to stand by an unpopular belief, especially when the other side is less than polite. A parent can provide emotional support. But having a mentor can supply an extra layer of caring against the cruelty. A teacher, neighbor, or scout leader may serve as a mentor. The organization I work for, Kars for Kids, is also expert at matching kids with mentors.

6) Ask your child open-ended questions. Ask him what he thinks about news items. Challenge him to come up with a viewpoint of a news item that differs from that of the mainstream media.

7) Above all, teach your child that honest questions are always healthy. Teach him to be a seeker of truth and to realize that what we see may not be the whole picture. Teach your child to think outside the box to get to the truth. Teach him that with truth as his aim, he will never go astray or be wrong.

No matter what anyone says.

About the Author
Varda Epstein is a blogger and Communications Writer for
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