Scooby-Doo was an effective way to teach critical thinking skills to kids, but there is no modern counterpart. Thankfully, there are teachers who are trying to make a difference.
As a child of the late 80s and early 90s, Saturday morning was a sacred time. Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, and Scooby-Doo dominated my morning. I filled my mind with useless jokes and colorful fun as Captain Crunch destroyed the roof of my mouth. My father called it the “boob tube,” and was utterly convinced it would rot my brain and make me stupid.
He should have been more worried about my obsession with Madonna. I’m pretty sure she’s why I became a stripper. But of all the things I was watching in the time of my impressionable youth, Scooby-Doo did a world of good for me and my overly curious brain.
Distracted by the stoner and the talking dog, not to mention the underlying sexual tension between Daphne and Fred, I was oblivious to the lessons the show aimed to teach. It started with these nosey kids, a mystery, and a hippie van. Something spooky and unexplained happened, and then it ended with a financially-motivated and not-so supernatural explanation. What a clandestine, but brilliant way to teach critical thinking skills to unsuspecting children.
Although my target audience was definitely not children, I tried to mimic this technique with my book on critical thinking and humanism. I hoped to dazzle them with jokes and innuendos, and slip in the lessons while they were distracted.
Scooby-Doo where the hell are you now?
When I thought about writing this piece, my hope was to find Scooby’s modern counterpart. But I came up empty-handed.
There are shows about empathy and problem solving, but almost all of them leave room for supernatural explanations. And none of them come even close to the funky wardrobes.
I couldn’t find anything that started with an illusion and a misdirection, and then went step by step to show how the trick was done. Nothing that helped teach us how easily we can be tricked by those out to make a buck.
At a time when pseudoscience and opinion are put on par with actual provable facts, our kids and many adults are left vulnerable, we need Scooby and his crew more than ever.
But in my despair, I managed to find a tiny dingy of hope in a sea of misinformation.
If the children are our future, then our teachers might just be our heroes.
In the latest issue of CFI’s Skeptical Inquirer, the only print magazine I currently read—if you don’t count my son’s Mad Magazines—I found an article by Melanie Trecek-King, an Associate Professor at Massasoit Community College in Massachusetts. It is the second of a series of articles about teaching skills rather than facts.
Teaching science facts rather than the path to find them gets kids to pass tests, but doesn’t inoculate them from the disease of misinformation, disinformation, and pseudoscience. They need to learn how facts are determined, not just the facts themselves. Trecek-King has developed a general science education course that teaches how to evaluate evidence. She even has a clever acronym for her guide to evaluating claims, FLOATER, which stands for Falsifiability, Logic, Objectivity, Alternative explanations, Tentative conclusions, and Replicability. Kind of like Scooby-Doo did. Okay, maybe not quite. But the brightly colored bellbottoms, Sonny, and Cher kept us interested at least.
That’s great news, but unfortunately, most middle school and high school teachers don’t have the time or resources to teach critical thinking skills.
Ever the stubborn optimist, I hope that her methods will catch on.
And as Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
When I asked my son about what he was learning in school about the scientific method and related topics, he told me that his school has a media literacy program. The program is designed to teach the skills needed to evaluate both sources and evidence.
Further into the conversation, he let me know how his peers reacted to and dealt with the deluge of garbage streaming into their faces in the form of entertainment. He was uncharacteristically optimistic for a teenager about the critical thinking skills they had in evaluating what they saw.
The kids might actually be alright. Maybe.
So while Scooby and his stoner buddy have been relegated to the fond memories of my childhood, there are people out there who are actively trying to teach our kids how to expose and unmask those who would try to fool them.
Scooby Dooby Doo!