We all make claims. “This drink is too hot.” “The mail is late.” “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever.” Or “the best way to good health is a bowl of Captain Crunch every morning.” These are just some of the claims I have made in the past 2 weeks. But how good were my reasons behind these claims? This post has a few tips to teach your kids how to evaluate a claim. And additionally, how to tell the difference between a reason that is true and one that is strong.
Challenge A Bias
You likely hear claims from other people at work, school, in advertisements or on a news program. Sometimes claims are trivial like the ones I made earlier, but with the explosion of misleading information on the internet, it’s important that kids understand how to look for good reasoning. It’s also important to encourage them think about their own reasons for making a claim.
Being able to support a claim has a lot of value beyond just winning the argument. It gives kids the ability to break away from their own confirmation bias by adding some rigor to their opinions (for more about biases, see “Can Your Kids Avoid Being Fooled”).
Looking for claims that support what we already believe might make us feel good, but it doesn’t always lead us to truth. After all, when a person decides which cable news channel to watch, it’s usually so they can feel validated in their beliefs.
Here are a few exercises you can do with your kids:
True v. Strong
Firstly, explain that reasons for a claim need to be strong which can be harder than merely showing reasons to be true. Here is the first claim I made above and I’ve listed two reasons below it:
This drink is too hot
- Reason 1: The drink is hot chocolate.
- Reason 2: It burned my lip when I tried to drink it.
Both of these reasons are true but only one of them is strong. Which one do you think is strong? Why do you think a good reason needs to be more than true?
The reason of “the drink is hot chocolate” is true–it was hot chocolate. Hot chocolate can potentially be too hot but this reason does nothing to support my claim that it WAS too hot. I could just as easily have stated: “George Washington was the 1st President of the United States.” This would also be true but just as useless to support my claim.
Why is reason 2 strong? A drink being too hot can be subjective from person to person, but a pretty good measure would be whether it burns your lips. This directly supports the claim.
Here are my other claims with reasons. Ask your kids to try and spot which reasons are merely true and which are strong. It’s also good to point out that a reason can be strong to support the claim but overall not be convincing. Have your kids decide if my reasons are convincing or not.
The mail is late
- Reason 1: It normally comes between 2-3pm. It’s now 5:15 pm.
- Reason 2: The mail carrier is not the regular person.
The best way to good health is a bowl of Captain Crunch every morning
- Reason 1: My doctor says that I’m healthy and I eat Captain Crunch every morning.
- Reason 2: Captain Crunch has 25% of daily recommended Iron and 50% of Niacin.
Hint: Even if the doctor says that I’m healthy after a physical exam, does that mean it is because I eat Captain Crunch? This is an example of correlation where a relationship has been establish but it isn’t clear if daily Captain Crunch consumption is the cause of my good health. Correlation is often misused by people trying to support their claims. It sounds plausible but I also try to eat vegetables and exercise. Maybe those things contribute more to my health. This is not a strong reason and it’s not even clear if it is true.
My second reason is strong in that it helps support the claim by referencing nutritional facts. But in the end, do you think this reason is strong enough to convince you of my claim?
Have the kids come up with their own claims (keep them simple). List true reasons and strong reasons. Keep in mind that reasons are not a restatement of the claim. Reasons should be a statement that tries to strengthen the claim.
How Do I Know?
Encourage your kids to get into the habit of asking “How Do We Know This?” to both claims they make and those they hear from others. This simple question can help us to be conscious of the reasons we are giving or hearing about claims.
Essentially we are asking for the evidence upon which the claim is made. And it’s ok to formally ask this of others who make claims. Here are a few examples you can talk about with your kids:
Everyone should wear a seatbelt when riding in a car
- Skeptical Question: How do we know everyone should wear a seatbelt when riding in a car?
- Reason: Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that by wearing seat belts, people can reduce the risk of injury and death by 50%.
Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb is the best cartoon villain of all-time
- Skeptical Question: How do we know Doofenshmirtz is the best villain of all-time ?
- Reason: Because his “inator” weapons can do anything from turning a person into a baby to the “paper-cutinator” which causes any sort of paper to give people small cuts and forces them to buy his expensive bandages.
Argument v. Explanation
I’ve thrown around a lot of terms. It’s probably a good idea to illustrate how claim, reason, argument and explanation are different and how the relate to each other.
An argument is a combination of a claim and its supporting reasons.
Here is a specific example of an argument. Notice that I have included my claim and listed multiple reasons to support it.
An explanation details why or how something happened. It doesn’t lay out the specific facts of an argument. For example, the police might believe the claim that John stole Jane’s purse. Their reasons are based on these facts:
- Jane’s purse was stolen.
- Her purse was found empty in front of John’s house.
- John recently purchased a new iPhone.
- John seemed nervous when police questioned him.
This makes up an argument. An explanation, however, would be “John probably stole Jane’s purse because he needed money to buy an iPhone.” The explanation provides a theory as to why something might have happened but does not build the argument.
Here are a few more examples. Cover the headings of the table and see if your kids can pick which are reasons and which are explanations. For the last two, have them provide a reason and an explanation.
|LeBron James is a great basketball player.||He averages 27.2 points per game.||He practices many hours a day.|
|There is too much air pollution in our county.||The air quality index average is 76 for the year which translates to a moderate air quality report.||People choose to ride alone in their cars rather than carpool or take public transit.|
|This drink is too hot.||The thermometer read 210 degrees Fahrenheit which exceeds recommended temperatures of 155-175F.||I only let it cool for 1 minute rather than 5 minutes after pouring in boiling water.|
|Justin Bieber is popular.|
|An iPhone is too expensive.|
The Stakes Are High
The political landscape in the US has become so polarized that people rarely engage with other’s with different opinions. When they do, it usually turns into social media trolling, name-calling, and the standard liberal or conservative slogans meant to belittle. Rarely do people listen to arguments and rarely do they engage in a civil manner.
When it comes to kids, the stakes really are high. There is evidence that kids cannot evaluate the claims they encounter on the internet as a recent Stanford study reported:
Our digital natives may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.
Kids have an uphill battle but being armed with the “how do you know” question and being able to evaluate the reasons for claims will give them a big advantage. After all, we want them to be able to know which health information they can trust and which is just some clown trying to rationalize eating Captain Crunch for breakfast.
For more about teaching kids how to better navigate the internet, see How Well Can Your Child Judge The Credibility Of Information On The Internet?