Artificial Stupidity

MARCH 10, 2010

Artificial Stupidity

The American education system focuses more on politically correct crusades
than intellectually correct arguments.

A woman with a petition went among the crowds attending a state fair, asking
people to sign her petition demanding the banning of dihydroxymonoxide. She
said it was in our lakes and streams, and now it was in our sweat and urine
and tears.

She collected hundreds of signatures to ban dihydroxymonoxide — a fancy
chemical name for water. A couple of comedians were behind this ploy. But
there is nothing funny about its implications. It is one of the grim and
dangerous signs of our times.

This little episode revealed how conditioned we have become, responding like
Pavlov’s dog when we hear a certain sound — in this case, the sound of some
politically correct crusade.

People are all born ignorant but they are not born stupid. Much of the
stupidity we see today is induced by our educational system, from the
elementary schools to the universities. In a high-tech age that has seen the
creation of artificial intelligence by computers, we are also seeing the
creation of artificial stupidity by people who call themselves educators.

Educational institutions created to pass on to the next generation the
knowledge, experience, and culture of the generations that went before them
have instead been turned into indoctrination centers to promote whatever
notions, fashions, or ideologies happen to be in vogue among today’s

Many conservatives have protested against the specific things with which
students are being indoctrinated. But that is not where the most lasting
harm is done. Many, if not most, of the leading conservatives of our times
were on the left in their youth. These have included Milton Friedman, Ronald
Reagan, and the whole neoconservative movement.

The experiences of life can help people outgrow whatever they were
indoctrinated with. What may persist, however, is the lazy habit of hearing
one side of an issue and being galvanized into action without hearing the
other side — and, more fundamentally, not having developed any mental skills
that would enable you to systematically test one set of beliefs against

It was once the proud declaration of many educators that “We are here to
teach you how to think, not what to think.” But far too many of our teachers
and professors today are teaching their students what to think — about
everything from global warming to the new trinity of “race, class, and

Even if all the conclusions with which they indoctrinate their students were
100 percent correct, that would still not be equipping students with the
mental skills to weigh opposing views for themselves, in order to be
prepared for new and unforeseeable issues that will arise over their
lifetimes, after they leave the schools and colleges.

Many of today’s “educators” not only supply students with conclusions, but
promote the idea that students should spring into action because of these
prepackaged conclusions — in other words, vent their feelings and go
galloping off on crusades, with neither a knowledge of what is said by those
on the other side nor the intellectual discipline to know how to analyze
opposing arguments.

When we see children in elementary schools out carrying signs in
demonstrations, we are seeing the kind of mindless groupthink that causes
adults to sign petitions they don’t understand or, worse yet, follow leaders
they don’t understand, whether to the White House, the Kremlin, or

A philosopher once said that the most important knowledge is knowledge of
one’s own ignorance. That is the knowledge that too many of our schools and
colleges are failing to teach our young people.

It takes a certain amount of knowledge just to understand the extent of
one’s own ignorance. But our “educators” have given assignments to children
who are not yet a decade old to write letters to members of Congress, or to
Presidents, spouting off on issues ranging from nuclear weapons to medical

Will Rogers once said that it was not ignorance that was so bad but “all the
things we know that ain’t so.” But our classroom indoctrinators are getting
students to think that they know after hearing only one side of an issue. It
is artificial stupidity.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2010
Creators Syndicate, Inc.


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