IBL: Before week 2: How can we learn to read critically?

Often in school, or through various media, we learn shorthand statements that capture some aspects of the truth, but fall short in other ways. In most cases, if we understood why these statements fell short, we would have a much deeper understanding of the knowledge domain in question and would likely find the topic itself more interesting.

For example, we learn that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and that he discovered America. But what did he really discover and in what sense did he discover it?

Other examples presented as true and commonly assumed to be true:

  • You should drink at least eight glasses of water every day.
  • You should choose your food from the four food groups.
  • There are five senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing.
  • For English spelling: “i” before “e,” except after “c.”
  • Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache.
  • There are seven continents.
  • ∏ = 3.14.
  • People in France speak French.
  • There are nine planets in our solar system.
  • Milk is the best treatment for a stomach ulcer.
  • Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity.
  • Gutenberg invented the printing press.
  • Napoleon was a short man.
  • More education is the key to economic success.
  • William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

But are these statements true? Is anything that we were taught in school true? How do we know?

(1) Investigate: Read the following:

(2) Create

  1. Choose a commonplace statement from the list above (in Ask), or come up with a similar substitute. The ideal would be a statement that has been explicitly taught, is believed by most people, including your classmates, but that you suspect is not completely true.
  2. Use the web to see what you can learn about why the statement may be limited or false in some interesting way. Ideally, if you already know a lot about the domain, keep searching until you come up with something you didn’t already know. The idea is to find evidence that alters or expands your view on a particular topic. What does the web say about it? Does it contradict the statement? Does that change your beliefs? How do you know which is true? the original statement? the web page? something else?
  3. What does this tell you about credibility of the web? About credibility of other sources? About knowledge? About how we acquire knowledge? About what it means for something to be true?
  4. Summarize what you learned in a poster to share with the class during Week 2. The poster can be created in electronic form, e.g., using software such as Photoshop or PowerPoint, or in paper and other physical media. The exact size is up to you, but think in terms of A1 paper or a display on a screen.

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