Pop Quiz: Reptilians Faked the Moon Landing to Cover Up JFK
Over the years that I’ve worked in high school education, I’ve learned many wonderful things from my students. I’ve seen young people suffer horrendous personal tragedies while still remaining focused on their school work. I’ve heard the most incredible life stories from the people I least expected to. I’ve seen individuals go on to become amazingly successful through their own hard work and dedication.
I’ve also learned that the moon landings were faked, that the US government orchestrated 9/11, and that there’s a place called Area 51 where stuff goes on that you wouldn’t BELIEVE.
Conspiracy theories and skepticism seem to go hand in hand and it’s always fun to pick apart the more outrageous claims of True Believers. However, as a teacher who promotes skeptical and critical thinking, I’ve found that conspiracy theories seem to occupy a very particular spot in the development of a young person’s skepticism.
That spot seems to lie somewhere just after a young person learns what skeptical thinking might involve, but somewhere before they really truly grasp how to approach the world that way. Every year, at least one of my students has appeared at my door with bright, excited eyes and exclaimed something along the lines of “Sir! Sir! I was doing some reading and I found out something AMAZING! You know those lines of vapour in the sky from planes? They’re actually chemicals! EVIL chemicals!” Don’t ask me why most Scottish high school pupils refer to all male teachers as “Sir,” by the way. It’s weird, it reeks more of habit than of any sort of deference, and no-one seems to know why it happens.
What seems to happen is that once a young person begins to form an understanding of what thinking skeptically about the world might mean, they start to tune in more to the kind of topics that attract that sort of thinking. However, if they haven’t yet developed their critical skills beyond the “question everything” point, it can be very easy for them to be attracted to ideas that seem at first glance to be skeptical but are actually anything but.
Let’s face it: lots of conspiracy theories sound awesome. Crashed aliens in the desert, shady government organisations, major world events being lies designed to hide the horrible truth. I loved this kind of stuff as a teenager and I totally understand the attraction. It’s only once someone has truly developed their critical thinking skills that they can see these theories for what they are. We’re used to evaluating evidence, to examining the quality of sources, to looking for the simplest rational explanations.
It can, however, be easy for a young person who is just beginning their journey into skepticism to view conspiracy theories as valid avenues of investigation. If someone’s critical skills are developed enough that they start to actively question the world around them but not yet enough to allow them to truly evaluate what they come across, researching a conspiracy theory can feel like great skepticism.
You told me about the importance of questioning the world around me. You told me to think for myself about the media I consume. I did what you said and I found out that the moon landings were faked in TV studios. Everyone else accepts the cover story without questioning it, but I see through that. I’m skeptical.
Dealing with this as a teacher can be difficult. If we simply smack down or ridicule that person’s idea, we run the risk of damaging their confidence in their own growing critical thinking skills. If we smile and nod along with them, or say nothing at all, we may end up validating outlandish ideas in that young person’s mind. When one of my students comes to me with a breathlessly excited explanation of the amazing cover-up they learned about last night, I try to use that situation to help that student work through the evidence (or lack of) behind whatever it is they’ve found. Conspiracy theories can be wonderful catalysts for the application and development of really detailed skeptical thinking.
Enough from me. This is School of Doubt’s first Pop Quiz, and that means that I’d love to hear your views about this topic. Pop Quizzes will appear on the site pretty often and we would love to hear from you if you want to respond to any of the discussion questions that will be posed in each post.
Have you, perhaps as an educator or parent, ever been faced with a young person who passionately believes in a conspiracy theory?
Are there any particular conspiracy theories that seem especially attractive to young people?
Can we, as skeptical and critical educators, use the inherent “attractiveness” of certain conspiracy theories to promote and develop skeptical thinking in our students?
I’ll be hanging around the comments section, so please do feel free to add to the discussion!
Unless you’re a actually a reptilian, of course. We don’t want your type around here.
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.
Featured image credit: Catgunner