PracticalDad’s Crap-o-meter:  Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

Some people say that common sense – which I define as the ability to think critically – can’t be taught and to an extent, that’s true.  But while some are more blessed with a healthy dose of common sense than others, fathers can help the kids learn to exercise critical thinking skills throughout their youth.  Part of my job is to help the child develop their own native crap-o-meter, or what my own father delicately referred to as the Bullshit Detector.

I marvelled at my own father’s ability to dissect an issue, idea or advertisement and never found myself able to reach his level.   My mother was also blessed with a broad streak of common sense but didn’t express it as analytically as he did.  But after years as a commercial multi-line claims adjuster – an adjuster who specializes in property, liability and worker’s compensation losses – I realized that listening to enough truth-bending and outright lying developed my own detector to a level that approached my father’s.  You might say that it’s just an unhealthy skepticism and disbelief but to get at the heart of a matter, you have to move past skepticism and ask whether something actually makes sense; if not, where’s the failure?

I started when they were at an early age by messing with them when we talked and making outrageously non-sensical comments.  Gee, Elmo’s looking rather green today.  He’s not?  How can you tell and what makes you right?  This has progressed through the years so that the kids are usually able to tell when I’m bluffing even if they aren’t sure why.  Well, two of the three but even that one’s making progress.  And occasionally, I’ll come across something that makes me scratch my head and decide to bring it up for educational purposes.

Tonight’s foray into PracticalDad’s Crap-o-meter is a Yahoo article about Sears/Kmart’s new offering of a cash-for-gold service.  In an effort to make their products continually affordable to cash-strapped consumers, Sears Holdings is offering a service in which spare gold jewelry and items can be sent to a vendor in return for cash.  They’ve thoughtfully provided pre-printed envelopes for the items as well as a tracking mechanism to assure that the transaction doesn’t get lost.  But my questions and the resulting conversation will hopefully touch upon certain points.

  • Why would Sears/Kmart offer such a service and why does the cash delivery have to occur within the confines of that particular store?  Because they want to provide money for folks who need it.  And some of those needs can be met within their store.  If not, impulse buying will hopefully occur because that’s why there’s target marketing.
  • oodles of goodwill and maybe some sales?  Well, how does the gold vendor make money?  And if they make money on a percentage cut from the transaction, will they have to share some of the cut with Sears/Kmart for the privilege of making it available within the store?  And how much bigger does that cut have to be to make it worthwhile for both parties involved?
  • For that matter, is all gold even created equal?  Gee, do you know that the amount you’d get for the 10k bracelet is less than I’d get for the 14k wedding ring purchased from a high-end Virginia jeweler? 
  • What’s gold worth anyways?  It’s increasing in value or what it might be buy if it were dollars?  If that’s so, why would you trade it in to purchase items at a Kmart?

My goal is to actually make them answer the questions, even if there’s silence for a bit.  I might have to explain some things but the great effort is to have them talk and not just sit listening while Dad carries on a monologue.

The larger idea of picking apart and reviewing an idea or program isn’t likely to take root immediately.  But with time and persistence, they’ll get the hang of it and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes that snag so many others.

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