Part 4: Critical Thinking For Kids in Action

Paul Romani

Critical thinking skills for kids in action

In this concluding part, we’ll be using critical thinking skills to compare and contrast our two photos. After this, we’ll produce a logical and systematic write up.

If you haven’t been following this series, here are the links to the previous parts:

Comparing & Contrasting

Critical Thinking Comparing Contrasting

Critical Thinking: Comparing & Contrasting

I’m not a great fan of Venn Diagrams – you know, the two overlapping circles. There’s no room to write anything!
The diagram above is a better method that is more space efficient.

Putting it all together!

Here’s a sample of our writing about these two photos. The purpose is to show how two simple photos can be analysed deeply using critical thinking skills, and generate a thoughtful write up.
Before showing this, I hope this series of blog articles has highlighted that teaching critical thinking to children is not rocket science. It does, however, require commitment and persistence to attaining deeper thinking among children. We should never be satisfied with kids learning basic facts. We should always endeavour to teach kids how to think more deeply using the critical thinking skills that these articles promote. For basic facts we start with the Who/What, Where, When, and What Action. After that, we focus on the Feelings, Reasons, and Results.
None of these exercises needs to be taught be a teacher. Parents are equally capable of using these skills with their kids. Modelling this behaviour is essential.
As a follow up to this blog article, we would like to create a series of practice exercises that parents can try out with their kids at home. They will be along the lines of what these articles have shown, but you can limit your expectations based on the age and ability of your child, i.e. the writing component really isn’t necessary with very young children. And, even with older kids, the outcome will inevitably be a lot simpler than the example provided below; after all, an adult with great life experience will have more awareness and more to say about certain topics.
Okay, enough talking. Here’s the finished write up:
Photographing child labour and appealing against its existence appear to be the initial objectives of the two photos presented.
The first photo is of a group of working class boys aged around 10-13 years old. All of them have dirty faces and are covered with mud or dust, presumably from working in the coal mines. They are all wearing caps and have some kind of handkerchief around their neck. This acts as a face mask during their work. One of the boys has a shirt and waistcoat with a chain. The boy to his right has a suit jacket, though it seems very big on him. The next boy has a turtle neck sweater; again it is a little big for him. He is also wearing a coat, and is probably the warmest dressed of all of them. In general, these children are dressed in adults clothes, doing an adult job, and yet are still only children.
While initially it would seem that this is a photo of Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, the two boys on the left appear to have Italian features, which would not be possible in England at the time. Therefore, from the boys’ faces, their attire, and the fact that the photo is in black and white, one can conclude that this is a photo taken somewhere on the north-east coast of American during the late 1800s.
The boys are all standing close together and are posing for this photo. One of the boys has his hand on another boy’s shoulder, expressing a lot of camaraderie. From their faces, it seems that there are different feelings and emotions among the boys. Some look calm and indifferent to having their picture taken; some look proud; some look happy and enthusiastic; and one boy in the middle looks sad. Aside from the last boy, there is a sense of stoicism about their emotions. They are probably suffering and sad, but are not showing these feelings openly. Some may feel hope or ambition that working hard will bring about happiness or prosperity – perhaps the prosperity that their clothing suggests they aspire for. Other boys may think that this is work is wrong and that they should be with their mothers and fathers. I would not want to do this kind of work. Although I can imagine that the boys had a very strong camaraderie, this kind of work is dangerous and unrewarding. It is certainly wrong for children to be doing this kind of work. At the very least, doing this work means that they cannot get an education and will be trapped in poverty; in other words, their ambition is futile. Furthermore, working in the coal mines of that time would mean a high degree of danger and a shorter life expectancy from later health issues.
In addition to the boys, we must also consider the photographer. Without research, we cannot be certain if the photographer is a man or woman. Nonetheless, considering the era, I would imagine that it is a man. This man would not be very old, as he clearly has a social agenda in taking this photograph – something that is more common among young adults than older ones. Despite his relatively young years, I do not imagine that the photographer looked like these boys or was from the same social class as them. Instead, he was probably middle class and was wearing a nice suit and hat, something that impressed these boys. His social agenda suggests a good level of education, as well as a stronger sense of justice and awareness of his nation
In spite of this, I feel a certain degree of conflict about this photo. Though this photographer feels bad for these boys, thinks that these boys should not be doing this job and that child labour is wrong, I expect that he feels a sense of excitement that this photo opportunity presents for his future ambitions. In addition, considering that this is a photo with a social agenda, one has to wonder how he came to take this photo. Would the owners of the coal mines give him permission to interrupt the boys’ work in order to protest against their child exploitation? What is more, it is very likely that this man acted with great enthusiasm to get the boys to want to take their picture. If you ask children to pose for a photo, you will get many fake reactions. Are the boys really happy when they are smiling for this photo? Maybe they are happy about the photo, but not about their work. Regardless, this photo suggests that it captures their feelings about the work, not the photo; in which case, this photo is quite misrepresentative.
The second photo offers a considerable number of parallels with the first photo, despite some key differences. In the photo are three boys and a girl who are younger than the American boys from the first photo, probably between no more than 5-8 years of age. They are wearing very modern clothes, so it is clear that this is photo has been taken in recent years despite the industrial setting. Interestingly, while one of the boys is dressed in warm clothes, the girl is only wearing a sleeveless dress. Like the first photo, the children are performing heavy manual labour, more common among adult men. They are working with very heavy and very primitive tools to clear the road of small rocks. Curiously, the kids are not really working; they look too tired and bored, although they do not look sad. Neither are they looking at the camera, perhaps for the same reasons. I doubt these kids know a different way of living. They probably think that this is normal for kids their age. At the same time, you can tell that they do not find it very interesting or rewarding work, and that they would rather be doing something else instead.
The background of the photo is blurred out, so this makes it hard to identify any geographic features. Nevertheless, the children’s faces – particularly the boy nearest – indicate that this is in South East Asia. What is more, considering that they are wearing quite warm clothing, I would think that this is in northern India. As such, I would say that they are from a lower caste, though not necessarily the absolute lowest. 
As with the first photo, this picture provokes a mixture of feelings. Again, it is hard not to feel bad for these children. They should not be working; they should be with their families or at school. They probably have little to no formal education, and will no doubt be poor forever as a result of this, as well as the country’s strict caste system. My second reaction, though, is one of disbelief! How ludicrous is it that some adults thought it was a good idea to get 5 year olds to use heavy tools that are almost as big as them! What is more, the work that they are doing is tedious and pointless. Do they really need these kids to do this work? One adult could do this work in an hour, but it will take those kids most of the day to finish.
Once again we must consider the photographer. Considering that this is likely in India, we can be fairly sure that this was taken by a man, unless the woman was very low key in her attire. What is more, he is likely to be a westerner, most likely American. This is because of western values and their nature to impose those values on other nations. Unlike the other photographer, this man seems to be attempting to catch the children in a nature state. Clearly, the photographer does not want this to look like a prearranged photo shoot. It needs to seem authentic. Again, I would imagine that this photographer feels bad for these children. All the same, I also expect that he feels some sense of excitement that this photo fulfills his company’s goals – most likely a charity organisation, such as ‘Save the Children’. While, no doubt, this man thinks that these children should not be doing this job and that child labour is wrong, I also imagine that he believes that a charity organisation is capable of making a change to this country’s child labour laws.
While creating public awareness is a very good thing, I do not really support international charity organisations. I do not support any organisation that feels that it has the right or power to interfere in another country’s way of life. If this country (presumably India) wants to change its child labour laws, it (meaning its people) should be the ones to initiate this change. This is what the western world has done, so why can other nations not be allowed to reason the same result? Change from within a country is far more effective than one created by an external organisation. Furthermore, in the modern age, western nations spend far too much time and money concerning themselves with how foreign nations are living their lives and nowhere near enough on the ever-present issues in its own nations. In Vancouver, for example, there are tremendous problems with homelessness, child poverty, youth unemployment / underemployment, gang violence, and family debt. I come from a school of thinking that you cannot help others if you do not help yourself first. As such, I find it irresponsible for charities to want us to put foreign nations ahead of our own children, elderly and nation in general. We should start with our home, then our community, then our city, and then our nation.