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Skeptical Programs for Generation Y and Beyond

Special Report

Barry Karr

Volume 33.6, November / December 2009

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has many long-standing programs to encourage critical thinking in children and young people—the world’s future skeptics.

One of the things we are most proud of is that for at least fifteen years we have supported the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching program (PAEMST). This is the United States highest presidential honor for the teaching of mathematics and science. Each year 108 outstanding teachers of mathematics and science at the elementary or secondary level are honored for their contributions to teaching and learning. Each year we donate a gift subscription of Skeptical Inquirer to each and every recipient of this award. We feel it is important for us to support these wonderful teachers as they educate our future generations.

Over the years we have provided scholarships to a number of students (both high school and college) attending various CSI events, including our national and regional conferences, as well as events like the Skeptic’s Toolbox held annually at the University of Oregon. We have also provided a number of Research Fellowships to students studying in the fields of science and anomalistic psychology at locations such as Goldsmiths College in London and the University of Hertfordshire under the Direction of such famed lectures as Christopher French and Richard Wiseman. As I write this update, we have the Center for Inquiry Institute going on here in Amherst. Joe Nickell is conducting a workshop on investigating the paranormal. Along with a number of participants from around the United States, we have helped sponsor three students from Russia, as well as two people from China. We have also had an internship program where young people can come here learn about science and reason and work with us on projects such as running a conference and establishing local groups.

Speaking of education, over the last few years we have received well over 300 requests from textbook publishers, university professors, as well as newspapers, magazines, local skeptical and humanist groups, and even television shows and movie producers, to include material originally published in the Skeptical Inquirer in their works. We try and accommodate as many of these requests as we can, for we know this material will continue to have reach and effect long after you’ve put down the magazine.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry also publishes a number of books, anthologies of Skeptical Inquirer articles. At least two of these books, The Outer Edge and Bizarre Cases, have been used by several colleges across the United States for use in courses ranging from psychology to logic and critical thinking. One book that CSI published was a book for young children called Bringing UFOs Down To Earth, by Philip J. Klass. Over the years CSI and the Skeptical Inquirer field voluminous requests from school children around the world for information on UFOs. It got to be too much for us to photocopy selected articles to send them in response to their questions. This book was commissioned by CSI to act as a primer on UFOs in term and examples that children would find useful, entertaining, and educational. We must have given away hundreds of this booklet over the years, and at one point Prometheus Books published a version in their children’s book series for far wider distribution. We still send copies of the book even now.

One of CSI’s crowning achievements in reaching and teaching young skeptics is our involvement with the Camp Inquiry program. This year was our fourth year of participation in the program and we are delighted to report that this was the biggest year ever, with forty-five campers ages 7-16 taking part in the week long event. The Camp Inquiry Web site states: “We think kids are uniquely situated to enjoy a new ‘Age of Discovery.’ Where others may see turbulent seas and dangerous impasses, we see opportunities—to create, to forge new paths, to open new communications, to tell new stories. And the best part is, the tools have been around for ages: science, reason, and skepticism remain the best means by which to navigate these unpredictable waters.”

Another activity with which we help sponsor is the Campus Outreach program run by the Center for Inquiry. This program helps establish and maintain groups, programs, and activities at hundreds of colleges and universities across North America, as well as a number of other countries. We send these groups issues of the Skeptical Inquirer and information flyers for use as promotional material and handouts at their meetings and events, assist them with bringing in speakers, training in running events and community organizing. Each year we help bring in a number of leaders of these groups to our headquarters in Amherst, NY for training lectures and workshops, as well as providing them with the chance to meet others just like them who share the same issues and experiences.

Finally, a number of years ago CSI developed a fun event for the whole family. It was called the Superstition Bash, and included such things as running a superstition obstacle course; psychic misreadings, and misfortune cookies. We were overjoyed to see this concept used and adapted by the Exploratorium in San Francisco last year, exposing the public to critical thinking about dangers and fallacies of superstition and magical thinking. Educating the next generation of skeptics is an important task, and one which we can all contribute.

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Barry Karr is the director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.