BISMARK, North Dakota (LifeSiteNews) - "I believe in Science."
I've heard that phrase from the Airbnb host who denied my unvaccinated request for lodging, the family member who refuses to see my family for the same reason (unless I show a negative Covid test), and the writer with whom I parted ways last year after I wrote an evidence-based post on the risks of masking our kids. I'm sure you've heard it too, and I'm surprised it's not a billboard already (perhaps with Big Bird's and Arnold's smiling faces).
When did "Science" become a deity requiring our faith? And isn't adaptability one of the core principles of Science, that hypotheses change as research discovers new data? In a world that has erroneously become divided into "Science believers" and "Anti-Science conspiracy theorists," it's crucial that intentional parents raise children to be critical thinkers who can see both sides - and the middle.
Piaget's cognitive development theory tells us children aren't able to fully use abstract, theoretical logic until about age 11. But if we wait until then to focus on critical thinking, the world will have its claws deeply in our children's minds.
The truth is: Parents can introduce habits at very young ages that lay the foundation for critical thinking - and that's the only way we'll avoid the binary society we find ourselves mired in.
The Atlantic recently asked the question: How do we move from a pandemic to an endemic? That's the obvious goal, but even "Science" hasn't figured out the goal we're shooting for to get back to normal. Author Sarah Zhang lists plenty of ways we can "reach" the endemic stage of this coronavirus, including ideas to "reform the living and working conditions that make people more susceptible," such as universal paid sick leave and free voluntary isolation spaces. So close! Yet Zhang never once mentions that if people made lifestyle changes that reduced their risk of comorbidities, maybe we would have better outcomes.
The article celebrates that "[v]accinated parents, living with vaccinated children, who have vaccinated grandparents, can worry that much less about the virus's worst impacts, and start behaving less cautiously." Even a reporter trying to ask the right question can't take a few more logical steps to realize that perhaps people could simply worry much less and behave less cautiously by choosing logic and tending their terrain.
It's no more than a tactic to say, "Science says," when you've never read the research.
Dr. Loren Wold, my fellow speaker at TEDxBismarck, began by stating that the main pillars of science are reliability, replicability, and adaptability. A core tenet of science is that we must be willing to adapt how we address questions as the data comes out.
My ears perked up because one of the three points in my own TEDx talk is adaptability. Rather than feel challenged, I felt validated. There need not be two sides yelling at one another across a divide, a radical left and a radical right. I choose the radical middle, the place where people think for themselves - and raise their children to do the same.
Thinking parents needs to intentionally foster these habits in our children from an early age:
Curiosity (with skepticism)
When we do, they immediately become more successful than their peers, as the Harvard Business Review hasshownmanytimes throughout the years. In fact, a 2017 study in the Journal Thinking Skills and Creativity* showed that people who think critically have better relationships, hold onto money longer, and even have a longer life expectancy compared to those with high IQ. That's what I seek to build for my children.
Every teacher we've spoken to in the past 6 months has praised our children's "soft skills," like organization, planning, questioning, and critical thinking.
"I can see his brain thinking, and it's marvelous," my 5th-grader's teacher shared during a conference (when I was, coincidentally, delayed in an airport over that early October 2021 weekend when Southwest had "weather" issues and cancelled thousands of flights).
"These are the skills that will help her truly be successful in adulthood," the 8th grader's History teacher stated emphatically.
I'm more proud that my children are achieving in this area than any "A" grade in an academic subject.
We see a great paucity of critical thinking in this culture burdened by info wars and divisive, two-sided arguments. It's toxic to unity, human dignity, and truth.
It's time for parents to build foundations for critical thinking skills even in children who aren't of the age of reason yet, whose executive function cannot perform these tasks.
We choose the environment they first experience, and if we can infuse that environment with those three foundational habits, we can prime their brains to be excellent critical thinkers when their pre-frontal cortex catches up.
My TEDx talk [below] is a way to spread a message with which almost no one can disagree, regardless of which "side" they're on. Of course children need to think critically. But if people really begin to build curiosity, adaptability, and resilience for their kids, they'll see that thinking for themselves is a path to the radical middle.
Sharing this talk is an opportunity to get messages out there like "Question everything, especially conventional medicine," and "Don't let others make decisions for your body," in a way that won't be cancelled or cause you to be de-platformed. Dr. Stantom Hom, medical freedom champion, called it a way to "Trojan horse the big idea...that's mastery."
This is how we normalize critical thinking instead of following unconsciously:
What does the radical middle look like?
I interviewed a pediatrician recently, and off the record we were talking about a mutual friend going through some very tough times.
"I think they lost their faith," I said. "I knew you would understand the significance of that - they really need prayer right now."
"Oh no," she said. "That's devastating. Yes, God is my center. I'm so glad you told me; I'll definitely pray for them more, that's something I can do to help."
This was a conversation between a hijab-wearing devout Muslim and a Rosary-toting equally devout Roman Catholic. That is true tolerance, inclusion, and quite frankly - love and respect - between human beings created with dignity by God.
In our next five minutes of personal conversation, we discussed how both of our families had COVID run through the household the month before. In her intergenerational home, the elderly grandparents were vaccinated, and no one else was. I commented, "That's how the world should look, isn't it? Everyone making their own choice based on personal risk factors and allowing others in the home to make the opposite choices."
The radical middle. It's a dream that's possible, especially if we start our children out with the right habits of mind.
I find the same radical middle with my son's best friend's mom, a nurse who has seen the worst on a COVID care floor. She's understandably more drawn to masks and social distancing than I am, with my background as a reader of research and curious skeptic. But we co-exist quite nicely, because I respect her as a human being and send a mask when my son plays outside with her daughter, and she puts up with me sending her a cautionary tale here and there and offering homeopathic remedies when their family had COVID. (She declined, and that's her choice.)
But we can all get along and focus on facts over fear and human beings over division. I've had plenty of interesting experiences when I'm open to learning, like a vaccine conversation with Dr. Loren Wold, who turned out to be an actual personal friend of Dr. Fauci's. I'm very open with my own children about how I think and how I treat people, modeling my best attempt at the reality of the radical middle (and humility when I inevitably am not perfect).
Recently on a van ride across town with my four children, the topic of conversation was the abysmally small data set for the Pfizer trials of the 5-11 age group shot.
The study group was too small to have what researchers call "power" to determine whether myocarditis is even a risk factor.
"Yet you'll see articles that claim, ‘Protection...by the Covid vaccine...would clearly outweigh the risk of myocarditis' for kids ages 5-11,"* I told my kids, who range in age themselves from 7-16.
Except that we don't have clear data at all.
"And that is how you lie with statistics."
I don't know what other families do on drives home from Grandma's, maybe watch a show or listen to music? As for me, I'm making use of every minute that they're under my roof.
Not everyone believes critical thinking is important, however. Many preach the theology of "obey and comply," such an ironic twist in our culture of "free thinkers" who somehow fell in line to think the same "free" thoughts.
While others applaud our "Catholic" president for his "progressive" stance on abortion, our family makes it a point to congratulate the senior in high school at our church who is choosing life for her baby and pray for her nightly.
When the world blindly follows every new mandate, we teach our kids to ask questions, use logic, and avoid situations that don't make sense. We attended Mass outside in our van for a full year because the parish we loved implemented many restrictions that made us feel unwelcome. Our faith grew, and our children saw that in every situation, there are always choices for those who aren't afraid to forge their own path.
As others cower in panic, my children experienced our family weathering COVID-19 with grace, empowerment, and agency. We had multiple protocols on hand and had already built up our physical and mental resilience, because we refused to subscribe to fear.
We have one body, comprised of physical, mental, and spiritual.
When we are mentally stressed or anxious, it can affect our physical health.
If our spirituality takes a hit, we have less mental capacity.
We can't separate the psychological and physiological, which is probably why the CDC's report from summer 2021 identified "fear and anxiety disorders" as the second highest comorbidity correlated with severe COVID-19 outcomes.
We build resilience by showing our children that they don't have to be out of control, that they can use their curiosity and adaptability to push back against the culture.
We build resilience by giving our kids opportunities to feel outside the mainstream, to plant their feet firmly in our family's values as the current of culture pushes around them in the opposite direction.
We build resilience by grounding our family in faith, nourishing them with both wholesome food and unconditional love, and fostering critical thinking skills.
I can't predict if I'm raising warriors or radical peacemakers, fierce mama and papa bears or priests - but I know that whatever society needs of them as culture shifts again before they become adults, their critical thinking will be ready.
Every time they hear someone say, "I believe in Science" they'll ask questions about whose science and whether it has adapted already. "Science says" doesn't need to be like the childhood game, where you do what Simon says without asking why, and if you do it best, you win. The game of real life requires constructive dialogue and informed decision-making.
Share this TEDx talk with friends on the left, right, and middle - the idea of teaching children to think is a long play but one that will ultimately win without casualties.
Katie Kimball is the voice of healthy kids cooking, working to restore the health of our young generation one kitchen at a time. She's a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, two-time TEDx speaker, and regular TV contributor who has shared her journey to real food and natural living since 2009 at Kitchen Stewardship, a blog that helps families stay healthy without going crazy. Along with her 4 children, she created theKids Cook Real Food eCourse,recommended in 2020 by the Wall Street Journal as the best online cooking class for kids.