If you spend time around teachers at some point you have probably heard them complain about “how gullible” students are or how they “believe everything on the internet.” This is usually accompanied by some anecdote about how a student asked about a ridiculous conspiracy theory or parroted some crazy “fact” they heard on a YouTube video.
Teachers look at this as a “sign of the times,” but really, it’s just a sign of poor teaching.
Schools should be teaching students how to think for themselves and many currently do not. Most schools, especially when it comes to classes that are mainly information-based, have trained students to “sit and get.” Many students rarely interact with the material in any kind of meaningful way. If they hear complex thought or commentary on the subject matter, it is often the teachers and not their peers. Unsurprisingly, students leave the classroom and use the “skills” they learned in social studies class in real life and simply inhale information. They simply digest whatever information comes from whatever family member or “YouTuber” they are exposed. Teachers bemoan this, yet in many cases, it is what they taught them to do.
Teachers today like to act as if the internet is brand new and made everything ridiculously harder. This is simply not true. The World Wide Web is 30 years old. Generation X had the internet in high school and college. The Millennials had it at home, and Generation Z has it in the palm of their hand. However, the skills required to navigate mass information have not technically changed. Students just need them sooner.
Teaching thought is different than teaching information, but it’s not particularly hard to do. When you give assignments about the material, ask students open-ended questions about what they think. If you have never done it before, it might require explaining expectations around answer quality, but in general, students like those kinds of questions. Have students share out. Challenge them. Tell them what you think, challenge students to challenge you and each other. Have them question long-held assumptions. At first glance, a teacher arguing with a student doesn’t look conducive to learning, but it actually conditions students not to blindly accept commentary or opinion just because it comes from authority or someone they trust.
It is more important than ever that teachers teach students how to process and question information. If schools insist on teaching students to be weak-minded, gullible, data banks for 12 years, then they shouldn’t be surprised that’s what they end up with.