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Another Voice: The president could take a cue from young learners

By Kathleen A. Bethel

President Trump made broad claims during his visit to Mesa, Ariz., last week, saying the Democratic Party has become too extreme and too dangerous to be trusted with power. When asked for his supporting data or evidence, Trump replied, “Oh please. Please. Don’t be a baby.”

At least for babies, there is still hope. The organization I run is SARSEF, an award-winning program teaching critical thinking – even to preschoolers. Perhaps a few basics might help the president support his arguments.

Learn to count: One of the first skills preschoolers learn is to count – everything from Cheerios to toes. When a preschooler is convinced that his brother has more M&M’s at snack time, moms across the world know the fastest way to prevent the tantrum is to line up the piles, and touch-count each one. Faced with numbers, the argument ends without tears. So when our president claimed in Mesa that “caravans” of “hardened criminal” migrants are traveling from Central America to cross the U.S. border, perhaps he, too, could count before making such a broad indictment.

Who said? Critical thinkers know it is vital to check the source of the information. What preschooler hasn’t checked their sources for consistency, asking Daddy for five more minutes of play time after Mommy already said “No.” Checking directly with more than one source is often the wisest course of action for children of any age, whether it be a decision about nap time, Russia meddling in our elections or climate change.

The Spoon Test: Solid decisions require an adequate number of trials to be sure the results can be replicated. We need only watch a baby in a high chair for a few minutes to remember how many times the spoon she is holding will be dropped. Testing gravity, and sometimes our patience, the value of retesting is one of baby’s first lessons. Nine interviews may not have been enough when investigating a Supreme Court nominee. Proclaiming Democrats are against a border wall because they know “they’re gonna vote Democrat,” was a large claim with no evidence to substantiate it.

Diverse opinions: Thinking critically requires both preschoolers and presidents to realize that their own bias may play a role in forming a conclusion. Just as a toddler must learn that sometimes the adults in their lives might know best about nap time, our leader could learn checking the alternate perspectives of others across the aisle is vital. Toddlers may not always like what they hear, but hear it they must. Diversity is as key to our democracy as it is to our survival as a species. Sampling only the opinions of those in our own party does nothing to convince those who are on the other side and weaken us as a nation through inbreeding.

Kathleen A. Bethel is the CEO of SARSEF, a science nonprofit that serves 135,000 students each year.

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