• January 27, 2022
 Op-Ed: Questioning your crazy anti-vaxxer Uncle

Original photo courtesy NMSU

Op-Ed: Questioning your crazy anti-vaxxer Uncle

Good teachers, some of the best teachers in fact, let students discover learning on their own. Often, this involves gently nudging students with well-timed and well thought-out questions. A good teacher can do wonders just by getting students to, what is called in the education biz, “metacognition” or thinking about thinking.

Steering students to a point where they have to explain why they have concluded, and back their conclusions up with facts is something almost all teachers have used. Students that can back up their learning by explaining why they know what they know about a topic have a greater amount of retention and have a broader base for future learning of related, and even unrelated topics.

I was thinking about this method of teaching the other day when I ran across a story on where someone was having a conversation with a reluctant relative who didn’t want to take the Covid vaccine.

After simply asking two questions, the relative backed away and, unable to explain, reasonably, their reasons for not wanting to get a shot and help everyone else in the world get over this pandemic backed down and went with the person to get a vaccine.

Of course, not all recalcitrant adults will crumble after being asked about their logic for not wanting to get vaccinated (although there is some evidence that many anti-vaxxers don’t really think critically about their stance) but perhaps if we could get a few of them to simply think about their thinking, they might begin to understand that most of their arguments against wanting to get vaccinated make little or no sense.

Can we change a few minds with just a few questions? The same questions that any elementary schooler has heard and has had to answer to explain their logic?

I went back to some old questioning skills books that I had and thought I would arm you with the tools that you might use next time your mask less unvaccinated Uncle asks you if he can come over to the next family get together:

What Do You Think About…?
A great conversation starter. It is a deceptively simple question. Tell me what you think about the Covid vaccines. Let them explain what they are thinking. No interruptions. Let your uncle tell you what he thinks about.

That question lays the framework for the rest of the conversation. When he is done explaining what he thinks about Covid vaccines, follow up with:

Why Do You Think That Way?
This pushes your uncle to go deeper into his knowledge of the topic. Is he feeling that way because he is scared? Because he has a lack of knowledge? Because he saw something on TV? This frames not only the way he is thinking but also WHY he is thinking that way.

This also pushes him to probe more deeply into why he thinks the way he thinks. Sometimes, the cognitive dissonance pushes bubbles to the surface, and your uncle starts to see the illogic of his decision.

How Do You Know This?
If your uncle is still talking to you at this point, follow up with this question. This question forces your uncle to make the connection between what he thinks he knows and the sources of his knowledge. Are the sources good sources? How does he know that? What makes a good source of information about a topic? Does he know?

Is your uncle in an information bubble, getting information from the same sources on a variety of topics? Are his “experts” on vaccines also experts on border security, the world financial system, and the global environment as well? You might probe a little more deeply here and ask why he trusts these sources of information. What makes them reliable on the topic of immunization? Do they have backgrounds that call for trust in that topic?

Can you tell me more?
At this point, your uncle might very well jump off into conspiracy theories including radio chips, Bill Gates, autism, becoming magnetic after getting the shot, the shot making you sicker than actually having Covid, and on and on.

These are probably easily traceable to the earlier question where the source of information is unreliable. If the source is unreliable, the information probably is as well. This question also challenges your uncle’s thinking

What else would you need to know?
By this point, your uncle has either left the room or is thinking deeply about his thinking processes. Hopefully it is the latter. Are there other things he needs to know? Don’t tell him, ask him. What other pieces of Information would he need to make a more informed decision? Can he access them? Can you help him get that info?

All of these questions as familiar to students who have been asked to think about their thinking. Each one requires deeper thinking, adding complexity to how people think about things.

Often, people make decisions based on minimal information, or based on the opinions of others, not really making an informed decision on their own.

These questions work for pretty much any topic that you might be discussing. Use them at your next family gathering.

Tell your weird uncle I said “Hi.” Oh, and tell him go get his vaccine.

Author: Tim Holt

Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment, over at his site.  Read his previous columns here.


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Tim Holt


Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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