Viral Education Falls Flat
A three-minute video doesn't settle a 150-year-old historical debate.
A video featuring the head of the History Department at the U.S. Military Academy recently “went viral” on social media. That fact offers a sad commentary on the state of intellectual discussion and critical thinking in today’s culture. The colonel, who appeared in uniform and identified himself as a West Point faculty member, delivers a three-minute speech that purports to “settle once and for all” the question of whether the War Between the States was fought over slavery. Aside from the dangers of relying on social media as a source for academic insights, the post highlights a disturbing trend that both ends of the political spectrum are perpetuating. Much like the climate change alarmists who argue that “the science is settled” and that no reasonably intelligent person could believe the changes are being driven by anything other than humans, the ostensibly conservative organization under whose banner the colonel appears apparently wants us to believe that we should stop thinking for ourselves because someone else — who at first glance appears reputable and authoritative — has done the thinking for us. Regardless of whether we accept or reject his thesis (and his credentials), we should reject his sponsor’s and other media outlets’ position that only “idiots” could possibly arrive at a different conclusion than their favored view.
The idea that anyone could definitively answer in three minutes a question that scholars have dedicated volumes to for well over a century should be laughable, but the earnest responses from a large number of viewers and hundreds of thousands of “shares” may be indicators of just how far we’ve fallen. Perhaps even more disturbing is that an organization that purports to be a “University” and a senior leader from our nation’s military academy both support this attack on reasoned discussion and critical thought. The essence of education is teaching students to collect and analyze evidence, apply logic and develop conclusions, not telling them they’re stupid if they don’t see it their professor or institution’s way.