Several skills are involved in processing information. Unfortunately, two of the foundational skills, memorization and summarization, get most of the attention. While they enable our children to retell what’s been read or heard, they do not prepare them to analyze content in order to choose and defend a position. Perhaps that’s why emotional appeals continue to sway opinion so easily. How can we train our children to stand against the onslaught of persuasive techniques that pull them toward compromise?
First, we must give them a standard by which to compare content and behavior. A math problem is right or wrong based on absolutes. Two plus two is always four. Ideas and behavior should be judged according to the absolute authority of God. Stealing is always wrong, for example, because God, the highest authority, says so in His Word. However, materials used in many public schools have replaced God as the highest authority with a standard referred to as situation ethics. That is, each person is encouraged to decide what is right in each situation by drawing on popular opinion and personal experience. Therefore, a person may decide that stealing is acceptable in a situation. He would defend his position, then, by using emotional appeals. In this way, children may be conditioned to justify behavior declared wrong by God.
This view has invaded literature, television programs, movies, and saddest of all, some churches. Professor of Social Ethics Dr. Joseph Fletcher writes “the new morality, situation ethics, declares that anything and everything is right or wrong, according to the situation.” Dr. Fletcher claims to be a Christian and goes on to encourage other Christians to act according to what they believe to be the demands of love in a given situation. In other words breaking any of God’s commandments is all right and can be justified by an individual’s belief in some vague and personally defined idea of what seems “loving” at the moment.
Therefore, to prepare our children to withstand this invasion, we must not only teach them right from wrong, but show them that scripture serves as the standard for judgment. Otherwise, they may bend by deciding that household rules and parental advice were simply their parents’ arbitrary choices.
We can begin by quoting scriptures as we establish and enforce rules of behavior with even our youngest children. As they are able, we can then encourage them to memorize scripture so that they can eventually apply it to situations on their own. As occasions arise, ask the children to quote the appropriate scripture (“What does God say in —-?”) If they aren’t sure, recite the verse and explain how it applies. For example, one very practical scripture my children were assigned to memorize was “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Although tested on numerous occasions, I especially remember one incident. My young son had gotten loud and physical in his protests about something with his older sister and cousin. I intervened and asked him what it said in Luke 6:31. “Do unto others before they do it to you!” he shouted. Obviously, training takes time and patience!
Second, children must learn to apply the standard to a wide variety of situations. Besides quoting scripture on the spot, children can learn lessons about behavior and its consequences by identifying with a character in a story. They can learn about having the courage to do what is right as well as how to handle themselves after doing something wrong (e.g. returning an item stolen, admitting to having taken it, and being willing to take the consequences). Therefore, it is especially important to read out loud to young children from stories with moral lessons. Plenty of these types of books are still available, but it sometimes takes a bit of looking.
All of this may seem quite obvious. But before settling into the comfortable assurance that you have done everything necessary to prepare your children to stand, keep in mind that young children accept instruction as true from anyone in authority over them. They are able to follow and parrot contradictory rules with no apparent realization that they are doing so. Therefore, children may give you the answers they know you consider “right” while at the same time giving someone else an opposite answer because that is what that person wants to hear. Therefore, as children mature, there must be an increase in discussions of stories, movies, and current events in terms of right and wrong with reference to God’s authority—His Word as the standard.
As reasoning skills are developed children should also become more aware of how their emotions can be pulled to lead them subtly toward compromise if they don’t stay alert. Therefore, questions should require students to move beyond recalling and summarizing information. Direct them in making inferences, separating fact from opinion, identifying cause and effect, drawing conclusions, and classifying, comparing, and contrasting information. Educational resources that provide specific practice in these areas are very helpful for all ages. However, children also need to be directed through discussion in order to become more adept at applying these skills to specific situations.
Reasoning also involves identifying the standard being used by the author. If the student has learned about the use of figurative language, point of view, and persuasive techniques that contribute to the tone or mood of a piece, he will be better equipped to look beyond the emotional appeal in order to see the main idea or theme. He should regularly compare the theme, the solutions to problems in a story, and the reasons offered as support in an essay with biblical standards.
Discussions of characters should include underlying motives and reasons for any change rather than just a recounting of their actions. This trains children to recognize justification when it replaces the courage to do what is right. This same reasoning can be applied to real people and events. When studying history, discuss the factors that lead to major decisions, movements, and wars. What were the problems and how did people think they could be resolved? Did it work? At what cost? Look at the bottom line, the premise on which a solution is based.
For example, did the proponents consider man basically good, just in need of better living conditions? Older students should read historical information with the idea of forming an opinion—choosing a side or supporting their own position. In this way they can not only practice reasoning based on biblical principles, but learn lessons from history instead of just memorizing facts for a test.
Teaching our children to critique what they see and hear can only help them withstand the bombardment of popular ideas that are contrary to God’s Word. We must encourage them to not only withstand the criticism of men for Christ’s sake, but also to offer truth that may influence others to stand with them.
**Kathryn Stout’s book Critical Conditioning provides explanations of literary terms, teaching strategies, and specific questions for discussion for all ages. Guides to History Plus, also by Kathryn, includes critical thinking questions for students ages 12 to adult. Both are available from Design-A-Study. Phone 1.302.998.3889 for a brochure or visit the web site www.designastudy.com