Education v Propaganda

The times we live in appear to be feeding trends which represent a serious threat to democracy.

On the one hand, the appetite for learning appears to be suffering from the lure of the social media and all the attendant distractions. The attraction is to know about the now, the sensational and the ephemeral rather than about the past, the basic and the established. On the other hand, the appetite for learning seems also to being dulled by a feeling of exclusion, a feeling that no amount of education can overcome the barriers to social mobility, of class and of inherited advantage.

The times have also fed the ubiquitous process of scapegoating that accompanies economic hardship, a hardship that is likely to continue permanently in some quarters. Newspapers and news channels discharge an endless stream of poisonous misinformation to suit the avarice and ambitions of their owners. No surprise then when a You Gov poll reveals that the population believes that 25% of all benefits are claimed fraudulently when the actual figure is less than 1%. The poll also revealed that people believe that immigrants make up 31% of the whole population rather than the true figure of 13% and that 24% of the population are Muslims when the actual figure is 5%. People believe that 15% of all under16 year olds are pregnant when the true figure is 0.6%. Perhaps most worryingly is the pedalled myth that nobody bothers to vote, such that people think only 43% bothered at the last election rather than the 65% who actually did.

Perhaps the most critical purpose of education is to encourage young people to question and to use the internet wisely in order to establish fact, to expose lies and to bear witness to their findings. We are also surely bound to explain to them the calamities that can follow if we do not demand the truth.