roger_schank's picture
CEO, Socratic Arts Inc.; John Evans Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, Psychology and Education, Northwestern University; Author, Make School Meaningful-And Fun!
Worrying About Stupid

I am worried about stupid. It is all around us. When the Congress debates an issue, both sides appear to be wrong. Worse, our representatives can't seem to make a reasoned argument. Candidate after candidate in this last election said things completely unsupportable by the evidence. Supporters of these candidates can't usually explain in any coherent way what they are really in favor of.

Or, consider experiences in customer service where it is clear that the person with whom you are speaking is reading from a script and incapable of deviating from the script because they really don't know what they are talking about.

Our high school graduates are very good at test taking. Story after story comes out about how cheating occurs even in the best schools and even involves teachers. No one asks what students are capable of doing after they graduate because no one cares. We just worry about what they have memorized. I worry about whether they can think. Talk to a recent graduate and see if they can.

I worry that young people don't talk any more. LOL and OMG do not a conversation make. It is conversations that challenge beliefs, not emoticons.

I worry that since no one thinks they need to think that the news has become a mouthpiece for views that can be easily parroted by their listeners. Challenging beliefs is not part of the function of the news anymore.

I worry that we have stopped asking "why" and stopped having to provide answers. We say we need more math and science in school and don't ask why. We say we need more soldiers and more arms and don't ask why. We say a prescription drug works miracles but fail to ask about what we really know about what else it does.

We glorify stupid on TV shows, showing what dumb things people do so we can all laugh at them. We glorify people who can sing well but not those who can think well. We create TV show after TV show that make clear that acting badly will make you rich and famous. The fact that most exchanges on these shows are done without thought and without the need to back up one's opinions with evidence seems to bother no one.

I worry that behind this glorification of stupidity, and the refusal to think hard about real issues, are big corporations who make a great deal of money on this. The people who sell prescription drugs don't want people to be capable about asking about how the drug works or how the clinical trials went or what bad the drug might do. The people who debate spending cuts don't want people asking about why they are never talking about cuts in defense or cuts in the gigantic sums we give to other countries. The people who run corporations that profit on education don't want anyone to ask if there aren't already many unemployed science and math PhDs, they just want to make more tests sell more test prep. The people who run universities don't want anyone to ask about whether college is really necessary for the majority of the population or even well done at the majority of our colleges. The people who run news organizations have an agenda and it isn't creating good thinkers who understand what is going on in the world.

So I am worried that people can't think, can't reason from evidence, and don't even know what would constitute evidence. People don't know how to ask the right questions, much less answer them.

And I am worried that no one, with the exception of some very good teachers who are much unappreciated, is trying to teach anyone to think.

I am worried that we will, as a society, continue to make decisions that are dumber and dumber and there will be no one around smart enough to recognize these bad decisions nor able to do anything about it.