Guest Post: Thinking for Ourselves by Hayley Barker

As a teacher for nearly twenty years, and later as a parent and a writer, I have come to believe that the first most important lesson for young people to learn is to be kind, and the second, the one I want to write about today, is to think for themselves.

Social media, YouTube, games consoles, iPads --all of them—have opened the floodgates in a way which just wasn’t possible to the children of my generation. Information: credible, farcical and everything in between, is available so readily now--in this new era of voice commands, we don’t even have to touch a button to find it. The world has changed forever, and it’s both a blessing and a curse.

In the classroom, setting the task to children of any age of finding out more about topics of interest, has quickly become a more and more pointless activity. Why bother going to the library and looking in books when information can be found online in a matter of seconds? Completing a research homework in the 21st century means a child printing pages and pages on a given topic off the internet. The most diligent students cut and paste from a number of sources, and some of them even read what they hand in, but certainly not all of them. Perhaps they evaluate the source they acquired it from, considering if it is credible and legitimate, but often they don’t, and in this era of fake news, in a world where anyone can make a website and anyone can post online about anything at all, it’s not always easy to tell who does, and who doesn’t know what they’re talking about anyway.

It has become more important than ever to evaluate sources of information and consider their reliability, but propaganda and bias are far from new phenomenons. The traditional “legitimate” press in this country is often pursuing its own agenda and there are certain newspapers in particular which are very good at creating xenophobia and prejudice with the slant they use and the stories they choose to report.

We need to question all views and opinions expressed to us, even the ones presented by the people we trust, by people we respect and love, by those nearest and dearest to us. Are they really true? Could they just be one person’s interpretation? Is there another way of looking at things? I love my parents deeply, but do I agree with all of their political views? No. And do I want my own children to grow up simply repeating the opinions I express to them? No. Even if we have the best role models in the world, we should never simply regurgitate the political and social views of others without stopping to consider and evaluate them.

Literature has taught me empathy and tolerance, and it has taught me to question. In Show Stopper, one of the characters, Priya, tells Ben, the main character, to judge for himself--to make up his own mind and to think with his head and his heart. It’s something Ben learns to do as the story progresses and it’s something I think we all need to do, young and old, now more than ever before.

BIO: Hayley Barker's debut novel Show Stopper was released recently and it did not disappoint. Find out more about Hayley here.

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