Misinformation is everywhere, but what about MISEDUCATION?
This text was published for the first time a few years ago. Lately, the discussions prompted by the murder of George Floyd, the removal of confederate statues, and the disputes over Critical Race Theory made me want to revisit it.
For a long time I believed education was the solution to the world’s woes. Education would lift people out of poverty; it would help us understand one another, heralding a new era of peaceful prosperity; it would erase racism, bigotry and other forms of intolerance.
More and more, I come to realize that education is just another powerful misinformation tool.
Story time. Not very long ago, I was chatting with a well-educated young Polish woman, and I told her about a friend who had had multiple abortions. Her eyes widened. Misunderstanding her confusion, I started to explain how no birth control method was a hundred percent, and that somehow my friend was so fertile that even using two of them, she’d get pregnant.
“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s just… doesn’t getting an abortion make you sterile?”
This from an eighteen-year-old woman, with pharmacist parents, who wanted to be a doctor. And I remember now, in her eyes, the fight between this ‘truth’ that had been fed to her all her life as a Polish Catholic, and what I had just revealed to her.
At the time, I just burst out laughing, not realizing I had just messed up a major part of her worldview. Then I went further, I got out my phone and showed her a picture of my friend, surrounded by all her happy kids. And I told her how I’d been there at one of the abortions, and at the birth of at least two of the kids, so I knew they were really hers.
I went on to explain that perhaps, in a country where abortion is illegal and so performed in dark alleys by butchers with hangers, abortions carry a higher price for women…
Now abortion is hot button issue, and I quite understand people with an objection to it. I mean, even someone who is pro-choice doesn’t regard abortion as a good thing. All I want is for it to be available and legal.
If you have moral objections to it, no one is forcing you to get one, and you are quite free to voice those objections. Where I lose my sh!t is when you make up facts to convince young impressionable minds to get them in your camp.
Some are just passing on false information they heard, but I’m betting somewhere, there’s someone who knows these lies for what they are, who might even be at the origins of these lies, who justifies them as serving the Greater Good. If your position was so right as you claim, why do you need falsehoods to prop it up?
Why do we as humans, need to set the person who disagrees with us as the enemy, as a monster that must be fought?
Even when you take issues that are less passionate, you find these insidious fabrications. Ever since I arrived in the United States from Canada, I have heard lies being bandied about against socialized medicine. Lies, I may add, which are so obviously manufactured by the people who profit from the status quo that it blows the mind to think people fall for them.
Of course the Health insurance companies don’t want things to change – why are we even listening to their objections? Everyone agrees that the people running these companies don’t care much more than a fig about our well-being, and yet, their arguments against a system that would greatly reduce their power is accepted like Gospel.
Same goes for pharmaceutical companies – why in the world would they be in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services gaining oversight on their prices? They’ll say anything, threatening shortages and other apocalyptic scenarios, to avoid it.
Then we have the providers railing, because they won’t be able to charge as much for care. Healthcare costs in the United States are amongst the highest in the world, so is it possible that they are so high because providers are simply charging too much? Once again, it is evident that these people profit enormously from the status quo, and will say anything to keep it. Why are Americans even listening?
The other day, I commented on such an op-ed, where someone with obvious ties to the American Healthcare industry made socialized healthcare into a nightmare, even citing Canada as an example. I said that while some of the things she said were true, the fact remained that having lived in 3 years in France, 35 in Canada, and now 7 in the United States, I would hop back on the socialized medicine train without a moment’s hesitation. (Canada and France don’t exactly function in the same way, but I find both preferable) Unsurprisingly, I was immediately trolled by an anonymous telling me maybe I should go back where I came from then. I was the monster who disagreed. It didn’t matter to this person that I had actually experienced various systems that were criticized by the OP, my perspective had to be devalued in any way possible because I disagreed with him.
But these rampant misinformation campaigns, enabled by our newspapers avid for eyes, is nothing compared to the insidious power of mis-education.
Who decides what is taught in school? Should we teach the theory of evolution? Or creationism?
At the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, you find textbooks exacerbating hate and exalting martyrdom, even at an elementary level.
What would we find if we examined school textbooks from any country in the world? Would we also find these little nuggets of misinformation like what led a young Polish woman to believe abortion made you infertile?
And that brings me to the scariest idea yet: how many of these lies are in our own textbooks?
Would we find what conditioned Americans to have such blind faith in their Healthcare system?
Worse, how many are lodged inside my brain? “Facts” that I now consider indisputable, that it doesn’t even occur to me to question. “Facts” that shape how I perceive the world, that influence my thoughts.
“Je pense, donc je suis.” I think, therefore I am.
But what in the world am I?
In these past few years, I have found out. I have found out that many things had been erased from the history books I studied, so as to cement my privileged position as a white person in my own mind.
We have glorified greedy evil men, traitors, and sociopaths in the service of this narrative; we have vilified the victims of capitalism, turning them into enemies to be fought instead of people to be listened to.
I have found that special interests skewed how I viewed crime – think of how the media is always talking about shoplifting right now, passing under silence the greater stealing of wages from workers by corporate America. Highlighting the crimes of the poor to obscure the crime of the wealthy. Even the most well-established news sources have their biases…
Then I found out how Texas controls the textbook market – Texas! Publishers of said textbooks thread cautiously around ideas that might be viewed askance in Texas, because its Textbook Commission (contrarily to most other states) controls the textbook assignments in the whole state. You still think what you read in your textbooks is unbiased? What has been erased to please Texas?
The other day the man who would lose the election of Governor of Virginia said parents should not be telling schools what to teach their children. Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, but I agree with him – parents didn’t though. But WHO decides, who SHOULD decide? Whom should we trust to do so?
I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure the answer ain’t Texas.