In a February 2021 New York Times article “Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole,” Charlie Warzel interviews pseudointellectual professor Michael Caulfield who proposes a new way to dumb down American college students: Convince them to stop researching and stop thinking deeply.
As a college student back in the early 2000s, I was taught all about fact-checking, source evaluation, and even conspiracy theorists. I loved to read and research. I loved to think and learn. I was a news junkie who read The New York Times for hours and dismissed sound, intelligent arguments as soon as I could prove they came from unreliable sources.
I once sat next to a conspiracy theorist on an airplane and I didn’t hear a single piece of information she said. As soon as I identified her as a conspiracy theorist, I I refused to engage. I spent the flight with earphones in, staring out the window, counting down the minutes until I could get away from her. A decade later, I wish I had asked her questions.
My behavior – refusing to give attention to someone as soon as you identify them as a conspiracy theorist or an unreliable source or even a parent with whom you disagree politically – has been encouraged, softly, at the college level for at least a decade and a half. But Michael Caulfield wants to make “attention withholding” a permanent fixture of formal education. In relationships, psychologists call this behavior “stonewalling” and it’s a common predictor of divorce.
The article goes on to say that “the way we’re taught from a young age to evaluate and think critically about information is fundamentally flawed and out of step with the chaos of the current internet.” “Critical thinking, as we’re taught to do it, isn’t helping in the fight against misinformation,” the tagline reads.
Hold up. Yes, you read that right. The New York Times is now discouraging critical thinking. Mr. Caulfield goes on to talk about how “deep engagement” and “reasoning” can “backfire.” Which is correct, for example, if you’re a pharmaceutical company peddling dangerous drugs to patients who take initiative in the persuit of their own health. Or if you’re a government trying to convince its populace that, at your whim, they should wear a mask or not wear a mask (March 8, 2020: “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask” which could further spread viruses by forcing people to touch their faces as they adjust the mask, Fauci explained to 60 Minutes). Yes, deep engagement and reasoning backfire against drug makers who sell drugs that make people sick and against governments that spew propaganda and sew chaos.
“Critical thinking is deep thinking,” according to Mr. Caulfield. The article explains, “People learn to think critically by focusing on something and contemplating it deeply—to follow the information’s logic and inconsistencies.” According to Mr. Caulfield and Mr. Warzel, that type of critical thinking is no longer needed in today’s world, which is described as the “internet hellscape we occupy.” (While we’re on the subject of hell, the Bible tells us that the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom protects us from being deceived and living eternally in hell.)
As if all this animosity toward deep thinking weren’t preposterous enough, Mr. Warzel goes on to outline reforms for education in which students are taught to follow a simple 4 step process: 1. Stop (engaging, reading, etc.). 2. Investigate the source (If the government has labeled the source unreliable, case closed). 3. Find better coverage (ie. coverage published by the pharmaceutical company or the government that would like you to stop thinking critically), and 4. Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context. (Notice the use of the word “context” as opposed to “content” or “source.” It’s a clever slight of hands: “Primary source” is replaced with “original context.” Poof! In this new education model, children are not taught to read primary sources. They are discouraged from tracing claims to the primary source itself and instead, advised to stop short at a government-supported article that explains the original “context.” No need to read the decades of scientific studies proving vaccines are unsafe – just read a Wikipedia article instead.) Mr. Wurzel overtly appeals to the lazy: “Spend less time torturing yourself with complex primary sources.”
“The goal of [the new method called SIFT]… is to instill a reflex that asks if something is worth one’s time and attention and to turn away if not.” What is the definition of a reflex? An action that is performed without conscious thought. Research and critical thinking are not reflexive, but the habit of stupidity can be.
“It’s quick and effective,” explains another expert interviewed. We must change “how we teach media literacy,” the New York Times warns, so that students are taught “that you often make a better decision with less information than you do with more.” It sounds absurd if you think critically about it – wouldn’t less thinking and less information result in less knowledge and less wisdom? But remember, according to the New York Times, you’re not supposed to think critically anymore.
The article goes on to use Robert F. Kennedy as an example. He’s been identified as an anti-vaxxer and a conspiracy theorist and he is, in fact, a perfect example to use. Because he’s been caught in a circular loop designed by the very giants he is trying to slay. They cannot argue with Robert F. Kennedy’s information so instead they label him a conspiracy theorist and teach students to stop reading his information and studies.
Think critically about this:
If you claim A or B or C is true, you are a conspiracy theorist. If you are a conspiracy theorist, you are not a legitimate source. Therefore, A, B, and C, are all untrue.
That’s the circular thinking that is being fed to America’s students today.
What happened to researching A, B, and C, reading primary sources and studies about A, B, and C, and deciding for yourself? That would involve thinking critically and that’s no longer allowed.