Completed partially in honor of Ada Lovelace Day in 2009. This was published at Skepoet at the Crossroads of Critical thinking in 2009. That blog is now defunct.
C. Derick Varn: How did you get involved with formal skepticism and skeptical thinking?
Kylie Sturgess: I’m not entirely sure what you mean with ‘formal skepticism’, since there are few opportunities for people to get involved with high-profile groups like Skeptic.com or the JREF unless you are actually employees! I have, however, been a volunteer at every conference for skepticism that I’ve attended overseas and I work in conjunction with several members of the NSW Skeptics on the podcast The Skeptic Zone. I’ve never been supportive of poorly researched ‘all talk, no walk’ groups and so doing what I do now suits me fine.
I would probably attribute my initial interest in skepticism to subscriptions to a consumer affairs magazine called ‘Choice’ and a popular TV program on Australia’s ABC, called ‘The Investigators’, which looked at scams and frauds. I was also very keen on comedy as a teenager – whilst friends were into the likes of Milli Vanilli (yes, the irony that they were not singing isn’t lost on me!), I was collecting works by artists such as the Doug Anthony Allstars, TISM and various stand-up comics hailing from the Melbourne comedy boom of the late 80s – early 90s.
If you listen to the lyrics and comments from works by DAAS and TISM, Corky and the Juice Pigs and Andrew Denton (Money or the Gun), you’ll recognise a significant bias toward questioning societal norms, encouraging philosophical reflection, criticising religion and the status quo. I can see a similar influence in modern times by the works of Tim Minchin and George Hrab – and I’m certain that there’s plenty of young people out there who watch pop culture shows where the occasional off-the-cuff comment by a Stephen Fry or Sarah Silverman make them stop and question their world.
C.D.V.: How did you get involved with education?
Kylie Sturgess: I was always interested in teaching, simply because I had seen many examples when I was a student myself of teaching initiatives and projects, seen various attitudes and strategies – and wanted to know what really worked and why. I don’t think people last long in the profession if they have an attitude of ‘saving or rescuing’ kids. When I was very young, I worked as an artist and did sculpture classes with other children, so I guess the early exposure to teaching others helped with building my confidence in that way.
C.D.V.:: How do you think the various education systems you have been exposed have done to teach critical thinking effectively?
Kylie Sturgess: The only education system I have had formal experience with working in has been the Western Australian system, which has undergone significant changes over the past ten years or so. We have seen the implementation and collapse of Outcomes Based Education – one benefit of this has been the creation and implementation of a new Philosophy and Ethics course which has continued beyond the OBE system and has been extremely successful as a popular course. I have been involved in teacher training and writing for the course, which has a compulsory element of skepticism and critical thinking and logic throughout the units. This has stemmed from my involvement with the West Australian Association for Philosophy in Schools group, known as APIS – we run Philosophy cafes and teacher training using the Philosophy for Children methodology statewide.
I have recently become involved with a group called the Critical Thinking Education Group, which is designed to cater for networking and promoting like-minded teachers worldwide.