The James Randi Educational Foundation Gives Teachers a Hand

Now this is cool …

As I’m sure some of you are aware, NECSS – pronounced “nexus” (North East Conference on Science and Skepticism) took place in New York City over three days and included a great array of speakers. Well, they made the news … Wired no less … where they focus on …

One panel in particular that was of interest to me was Critical Thinking Education. On the panel were DJ Grothe, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), Dr. Meghan Groome from the New York Academy of Science and Marc Barnhill, who teaches critical thinking at New York University. All three panelists have been involved in teaching critical thinking either in traditional classroom settings or as part of workshops for adults and educators.

The discussion turned to how teachers can help students develop a foundation for critical thinking. DJ Grothe introduced the JREF classroom modules for teachers. These free modules introduce kids to critical thinking and scientific inquiry through activities based on paranormal phenomenon. The module Do You Have ESP? is designed to teach students about setting up experiments, sample sizes and statistical significance.

This is not about getting a specific JREF agenda into schools, but rather is designed to nurture critical thinking skills for concepts that are part of the National Science Content Standards and the AAAS Science Literacy Benchmarks.

Now thinking about all this, it reminds me of what I tripped over in a Blog posting by PZ yesterday on Pharyngula where he discusses where atheism needs to go …

…almost all of the people in that mosque, church, or synagogue believe in stupid ideas. They aren’t evil, they’re wrong, and their credulous beliefs make them more gullible and susceptible to exploitation. I’m not in the least bit interested in punishing the religious for their beliefs in any way; they’re victims of bad tradition and poor education, and if you want to end religious terrorism the best strategy isn’t to make bodies bounce in the rubble or isolate and suppress, but to educate, educate, educate. Open up economic opportunities, increase the security of people’s lives (not just privileged wealthy white people’s lives, but everyone’s), and teach people how to think and learn.

This for me is indeed the way forward, being a skeptic is not simply about debunking insane claims, but instead is really, deep down at its roots, all about encouraging people to start to think critically for themselves. You might indeed debunk some crazy stuff, but when the very next batty belief pops up the very same folks who bought the previous idea will be queued up in the market for it. If however, individuals can be educated to think critically from a young age then we can immunize them against such exploitation.

As for the modules, I’ll try a couple out on my 11 year old and feedback the results to the JREF.


  • To download the modules you can visit The James Randi Educational Foundation and get them free of charge
  • NECSS is down for this year, but if you would like to attend the next NECSS then you should head over and signup for their e-mail announcements the NECSS site

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