America has been fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Some social scientists say that the conspiracy world began to flourish with the Kennedy assassination in 1963. A succession of violent events shocked a public that demanded an explanation.
Before our eyes, our young president was shot down, and days later the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed on live TV by Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner. Who was Oswald, the strange guy in the Texas Book Depository who took out JFK as he rode in a motorcade through Dallas? Dozens of books and movies fed the “real” stories.
Enter the internet in the 1990s, and suddenly strange ideas, random sightings and pseudo explanations for phenomena of all kinds proliferated, striking roots in dark places, where they thrived.
Who said men ever walked on the moon? How many humans have actually been snatched by aliens for visits to outer space? Elvis is really alive, and Paul McCartney is really dead.
Apparently, the earth is flat. Or possibly hollow. Or probably inhabited by beings who live in the netherworld below.
You can’t even begin to count the vampires in the royal family, and some believe that a footman found human remains in the queen’s family freezer. Snack food?
Most conspiracy propaganda is ridiculous and not particularly threatening, but what happens when a lunatic fringe goes more mainstream? What happens when a dangerous conspiracy theory gains traction with hundreds of thousands of people and more? What is the consequence of a conspiracy group getting one of theirs elected to the United States Congress?
Well, here we are, folks, with Marjorie Taylor Greene, late of QAnon, in the House of Representatives. Early on, she allied herself with the group that believes that prominent elected officials and Hollywood celebrities are devil worshippers and child molesters. Greene expressed her support for threats of violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
How do you counter a new, popular, destructive belief system? The solutions are neither quick nor easy.
The only antidote to the proliferation of conspiracy theories and hate groups is universal, robust education. It’s no coincidence that QAnon has surged during a pandemic when everyone is trapped inside with little to do but weave webs of deception online.
Do you love America? Help make our education system the best in the world, not just in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, but also in civics. We have to teach constitutional democracy, and make it come alive for kids as a living, breathing way of life.
Please read “America must embrace civics and history instruction for the sake of our democracy,” an editorial in the Washington Post on March 2. As adults, we have a lot to learn about how to support our freedoms and recognize authoritarianism when it emerges.
We can all help our children become sharper, more critical thinkers instead of classroom sponges.
As a former teacher, a parent and a grandparent, I have both experienced and witnessed the droning boredom of rote learning and “teaching to the test,” and lifetime jobs for teachers who long ago cashed in their chips. When we send our kids to school, we are entrusting their minds and futures to teachers who must inspire and sow creativity.
A child who learns from their parents to be curious about the world, to ask questions, to pursue proof in the face of dogma is someone who can resist conspiracy theories with intellect and moral courage. Actively curious children become intellectually healthy adults. We can all learn better to question assumptions, be aware of our own biases and evaluate evidence.
According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking website, “Critical thinking is just deliberately and systematically processing information so that you can make better decisions and generally understand things better.”
I don’t know how we get there from here, but I am absolutely sure that quality education blows the cobwebs out of the corners and engenders creative thinking and questioning in the face of false information and demagoguery.
Did you know that Finland doesn’t exist? That Meghan Markle is a robot? That 5G causes Covid-19? That 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. government? And so on. People believe this stuff, and generally their flights of fantasy do no harm. But today QAnon has emerged, raising a big tent for haters and fear-mongers from every corner of America.
Many of our fellow Americans are buying what Q is selling.
We must do better than this as a nation. Change begins with teaching our children how to learn.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.