Everyone knows someone who knows someone else whose family member saw a post on Facebook and now they believe that children are being sacrificed every Thursday evening to honour Bill Gates.
Of course I am being ironic, (or am I…). Conspiracy theories have weaved their way in and out of society for as long as it has existed. Some can be quite amusing, whilst others can make you question what you think you already know to at least see if there is something new you can learn. And then there are others that are just plain dangerous and can sway a large percentage of populations to believe information that can only be qualified as ‘hearsay’. So-called ‘evidence’ amounts to nothing more than an individual’s opinion shaped by what they have read or watched on someone else’s website.
This blog is not to mock those who believe in conspiracy theories. Although I am left perplexed by people who believe that Hilary Clinton and other left-wing politicians are involved in partaking or hiding child abuse, yet fail to join forces with children’s charities such as NSPCC, who are well-versed on this topic. Or are they also involved with Clinton’s plan? Or dare I ask, are the children, the NSPCC and NGOs such as the UN report about most likely to be victims of sexual exploitation fail to fit the profile of those who deserve the most outrage and justice?
Anyway, social media has fast-tracked conspiracy theories to every corner of the world. It provides space for them to thrive as they spread from one smart phone to another. Almost like an online game of Secret Message. It should be noted that aspects of the mainstream media have also jumped on the band wagon and fuelled theories to their advantage. With recruitment being at (what seems) peak season for people to believe that microchips have been inserted into the COVID-19 vaccines to the British Royal Family being “shape-shifting reptile overlords, who are both aliens and natives of a hollow Earth,” I don’t know who should be more insulted, the Royal Family or aliens?
Nevertheless, this has led me to write this blog and question if this is the reason as to why the concept of critical thinking has been under attack? That the idea of encouraging people to do more analysis of facts, evidence and observations to help them form an opinion, obviously counterattacks the ease of believing whatever social media, mainstream media, family or friends wants you to trust.
The ability to fully engage our brains and to make analytical decisions is a gift that most human beings are capable of. Critical thinking doesn’t demand that you blindly follow experts in their fields. It asks you to listen to their arguments and if you disagree, do so with factual evidence that disproves their beliefs.
For some, the ideology of critical thinking has been turned into a game of politicking or cultural wars and a way to further divide people. This is especially the case when it comes to critical race theory, which explores “the idea the racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individuals with prejudices. Racial inequality is woven into legal systems that negatively impacts people of colour in countless parts of their life.” If ever there was a case to judge the benefits of critical thinking, then using it to decide if critical race theory’s definition is right or wrong is perfect. If one group of people say they face discrimination in all wakes of their life and if you disagree, then factual evidence should be used to prove them wrong. Simply, not liking what is said isn’t enough to discredit their claims.
Yet, that is exactly what some members of the Republican party are doing. Critics argue that critical race theory is divisive and that it forces White people to feel guilty about their skin tone. In May 2021, several Republican members of congress introduced a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools. One representative, Rep. Burgess Owens from Utah explained: “I grew up attending segregated schools in the Jim Crow South during a time when people were treated differently based on the colour of their skin. Critical Race Theory preserves this way of thinking and undermines civil rights, constitutionally guaranteed equal protection before the law, and U.S. institutions at large.”
The problem with Owens’ comment is that it suggests people of colour are no longer judged on their skin. That civil rights have torn down the walls of racism and all people are now treated equally. This clearly isn’t the case thanks to endless studies and reports stating otherwise, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s. There’s no doubt that combating racism has evolved since the days of Jim Crow, but it is a problem that isn’t one dimensional. It has many faces, ones that are as violent as the era Owens speaks of or as subtle that even its victims question whether they have been on the receiving end or not. Either way, it’s ugly and understanding its roots and seeing if they are still entangled in today’s society doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, people like Owens should trust people’s ability to use critical thinking to make up their own minds. Unless, he and his like are scared that all facts point in an obvious direction.
On this side of the Atlantic, Britain has been facing its own tug-of-war with critical thinking and critical race theory. Britain has always been reluctant to confront its own bothersome history. It attempts to dip its toes into the fountain of truth and often quickly retreats them claiming it’s too hot, whilst screaming it’s a country that welcomes everyone. Except if you’re a part of the Windrush generation of which you were told, literally, to “go home” and wrongly deported.
However, the encouragement of critical thinking has also been under attack, Recently, a group of Year 6 students in Nottingham were set an assignment to watch a segment of BBC’s Newsround which featured a report about the 12 parties that took place at Downing Street in 2020, during a period when the UK was following newly invoked lockdown laws due to COVID-19. At present, the Met Police is investigating the parties.
Pupils from the school were then asked to write a letter to express their opinions. As a result, the pupils referred to prime minister Boris Johnson as a “hypocrite and called for him to resign.” One letter went on to state: “This week in Year 6 we have been looking at our aspirations and role models for the future. We have looked at famous leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama and we have also looked at teachers and head teachers who are doing their part in keeping us happy, healthy and safe.” The letter then adds: “We also looked at people who we respect and disappointingly, our own Prime Minister has not made it on to this list”.
The right-wing of mainstream media and others have criticised the school and accused them of being politically one-sided. For them, it seems farfetched that a group of 10-year-olds are capable of analysing factual evidence and drawing their own conclusions. Or make decisions that they dislike.
In response to the so-called ‘outrage’, the school’s head teacher explained: “There is no ‘teaching’ of politics. We explain processes and structure, with the children encouraged to express their thoughts.” And there it is, the beauty of allowing individuals to think for themselves.
My only assumption that those who oppose critical thinking and critical race theory is that it threatens the status quo. It demands more from leaders who must set the right examples and not simply dictate to others. It also keeps society engaged on how a country is governed, holding institutions, individuals and organisations to account and if people are unhappy, they can make decisions at the ballot box.
Without it, a society without critical thinking leaves it vulnerable to those whose intentions are not to serve the public that voted them into power. To make decisions that do not best serve the population. It leaves a country exposed to blindly follow whomever is in power, regardless of whether the outcomes benefit its citizens and future generations. Don’t believe me? Then look at historical facts where those who encourage critical thinking are overpowered and make up your own minds on whether you’d like to live in that kind of society.