Friday, October 31, 2008

Dawkins to pen children’s book

Richard Dawkin's is working on a book for children.  That should be fun.

Now, I love me some curmudgeonly Atheist commentary on occasion, but I do find it hard to think that his book would be something my kids would get into.  Of course, it isn't out yet so we'll wait and see.

Teaching kids to look at things scientifically isn't actually a heavy lift.  They are already little investigators from the get-go.  It's hard wired, and actually seems to need to be taught OUT of them.   Remember when you got to study Greek and Roman myths?  Did *anyone* in your class ask the teacher "Wait, how come we call these myths now if this was the real religion at the time?" or some variation on that theme?

Dawkins is concerned about scientific principles not being emphasized enough to young children, and I agree.  With his concern about teaching kid's fairy tales,  I think he's overlooking, or ignorant of, cognitive research and childhood development studies that have shown that kids fantasize as part of their overall growth, and that they do in fact have a good innate sense of real vs. unreal. I think it could be a fabulous book if he's aware of this and manages to lighten up and play a little.  If not...ugh.

I do agree with Dawkins that it is fundamentally wrong to "respect" religion.  I find the better concept to be "tolerate", and teaching that is tricky but not impossible.

We use the bonus category of  'pretend' to deal with teaching actual facts, yet still allow play and flights of fancy.  We decided from the start to teach that Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. was pretend, but that some people get a little carried away with it and like to have their kids believe they are really REAL, and they get very upset if you go about telling them they are not.

This was the perfect segue for teaching that people also really believe other things that aren't at all real, and get pretty attached to that, so it's polite to just not point out that they're lying to themselves.   This approach works for religion, pseudo-science, "new age" philosophy, etc.

Here are some reality-based books for kids that I recommend, click through for age recommendations and more info:

Critical Thinking:

Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide For Young Skeptics by Dan Barker

How Do You Know It's True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition by Hy Ruchlis

Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide For Young Thinkers by Dan Barker

Alexander Fox and the Amazing Mind Reader  by John C. Clayton


What About Gods?  by Chris Brockman

Just Pretend: A Freethought Book For Children by Dan Barker


Eyewitness: Evolution by Linda Gamlin

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution  by Steve Jenkins

Spore and chess

I decided to take the bait and get Spore.  My 5th grader is spending every second he can on the game. From microbe-level engineering to tribal conflicts, he's really getting into making choices and changes.

As for the 6 year old, she's just watching and commenting while he takes the active role.  That reluctance to try things on her own is something I have to work out a way to change.  She's holding back in chess club as well, and it's hard to tell if she genuinely isn't understanding the game, or is just really into being passive and non-confrontational.

She's sick today, so we're taking the afternoon off, and I'll be researching the issue further on my own.