Today I shall talk about primary education. I have long been of the opinion that many important aspects of education are left too late (if taught at all) in our education and that society would benefit from including them in primary education. I will give a list of these items, explanations as to why I think them important and why I think they should be taught this early.
1) Common problems with critical thinking such as:
Here-say evidence, the use of emotive words, bad analogies, ad hominem attacks, over reliance on authorities or circular reasoning.
See a good list of these at this page [http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/sherm3.htm].
Many if not all these problems could be taught about in primary school. Of course children would not necessarily obtain a full understanding of them first time around. It would probably be fruitful to teach them in more detail later on in a child's education too.
Never the less knowing and being able to avoid these pitfalls would help immensely with the rest of a child's education. Furthermore being able to recognize and apply critical thinking skills requires many years of practice. Like language skills I think critical skills are best learned early on and practiced regularly.
2) The scientific method.
The basic hypothetical-deductive method is a three step process (very similar to natural selection). This process can be explained to a small child in outline.
Furthermore Occam's razor is very simple to explain in outline. A full understanding requires a more careful explanation but for the purposes children are likely to need it for a basic form of Occam's razor should suffice.
3) The laws of thermodynamics and the theory of natural selection.
Both of these aspects of physics are not addressed until very late on in the sciences, are very simply stated and help one understand everything else in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Children would be much less confused by the sciences if they were taught these ideas first.
Certain key ideas help children develop a structure within which to place new knowledge. These ideas should be taught first.
4) The differences between primary and secondary sources and the importance of looking for bias in those sources.
In learning about the world children are bombarded by the media, the Internet, their parents, their peers and other organizations with truth claims. Children must be helped to develop the skills to evaluate these claims for themselves.
5) The concept of a reasoned argument, the idea of a formal proof and the meaning of rigor in such a proof.
I'm not advocating a course in formal languages for 5 year olds here. However, children should know that their are intellectual tools available to reduce bias, to deduce predictions rigorously from theories and judge the strength of an argument.
Most adults believe they understand the meaning of the words proof, reason and logic but are mistaken. In particular 'logical' is often confused with 'rational'. Knowing that these ideals exists and what they mean can help in trying to attain them.
Again, for these ideals to become instinctual and to be used in developing a child's understanding of reality they need to be presented early on.