The Daily Parker

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Required course for high schoolers

Scott Adams thinks kids should learn how to compare, and I agree:

In our current system, the skills you need to compare alternatives are broken into little pieces and spread across several disciplines. A business student might learn about the time value of money while the psychology student is learning about confirmation bias. The math major is studying statistics while the religion student is learning that people will believe just about anything if the context is right.

Lacking the basic skills needed to compare alternatives, two people with different information and a couple of drinks can argue all night long and produce nothing but bad feelings. The same goes for people with different selfish interests and different ethical/moral standards. But people with good comparison skills can quickly find common ground. In our increasingly complex world, where different cultures are colliding, we'll all need a lot more talent for making the right comparisons.

Consider the budget debate in the United States. Every knowledgeable observer recognizes that the solution involves both deep cuts in expenses and higher taxes on those who can afford it. And yet our elected officials have framed the issue as one of higher taxes or not, and budget cuts or not. Politicians get away with false comparisons because the majority of voters are not trained in the skill of comparing. Borrowing a strategy from Gandhi, we need to become the change we seek in the government. Leaders will only make rational comparisons, and therefore rational decisions, when they know that the voters can tell the difference.

This is a great idea. It's important to keep in mind, however, that generally children have difficulty with abstract reasoning until they're 14-16 years old. Back in a previous life, in the 1990s, I tried teaching high school kids the basic fallacies of relevance. I had a small sample size, so I can't say my experience was statistically significant, but all the kids under 15 had trouble and all the kids over 16 mastered them with only a little effort.

Still, in a democracy, we need people who can reason; Adams's approach makes a lot of sense.

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