Monday, April 6, 2015

Using data to inform debate: Free-range parenting

One way to engage students in the classroom is by bringing in debates and real world examples. Sometimes, such debates take place largely over social media. A Facebook question du jour: Is "free-range" (letting your kids go out side, walk to the store, etc. without supervision) a good way to build independence or child neglect? Anecdotes abound, but how safe is your kid when they are out on their own? What kind of data could help us answer this question objectively?

The first piece of information comes from an opinion piece by Clemens Wergin from the New York Times (.pdf in case of pay wall). Wergin describes how free range parenting is the norm in Germany and contrasts American attitudes to German attitudes, providing a quick example of multicultralism (and why we should never assume that the American attitude towards something is the only opinion). He then  provides data that explains that children are far more likely to be killed when in a car than when walking by themselves. Additionally, he cites data demonstrating how rare stranger kidnapping really is.

Related to this is an older piece from Meagen Voss for NPR. This one is a great example of the availability heuristic, as well as a how-to guide for using data to support a logical argument. This news story contrasts the fears that parents have about their children's safety versus health and safety data that details what actually hurts and kills children. See the list below:

How to use in class:

1) Good examples of the proper use of data to make an argument/counter argument/shed light on a debate that can be emotional.

2) Spark a discussion about how data can be used to provide evidence and insight in our legal process (here, whether or not free range parenting is the same thing as neglect).

3) Availability heuristic

4) Multiculturalism/parenting/developmental psychology

5) Ask your students to generate a list of other data points that might be useful in this debate. Is kidnapping the only fear parents have when thinking about their free range children? Do you think that different neighborhoods might have different dangers (bullying, drug dealing, really bad drivers, severe weather) parents need to consider? How about the parents of children with developmental or cognitive problems? How does child maturity fit into the mix? Do you think that the data presented is actually sufficient evidence (for instance, if children spend more time in cars than walking, is it just pure chance that is leading to greater deaths via car?).