A week ago, radical Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol. Today President Biden was sworn in, but the Americans who supported the attack are not going away. For many, this attack was especially upsetting because it was their first significant encounter with the QAnon movement and its supporters. Personally, I can ignore the movement no longer, so this is my first attempt at making sense of it and how it fits into my educational philosophy.
It is easy to simply call QAnon supporters dumb or bad or explain them away as poor, struggling white Americans. In truth the movement is more like a fascist, authoritarian cult. It is a reactionary movement comprised of many conspiracy theories that, like all conspiracy theories, provides a comprehensible explanation for the complexities and randomness of our world. Some people involved with the movement are profiting from it. Others are at various stages of indoctrination. Some just dabble in it because it’s interesting and entertaining and maybe think it’s at least a little bit true. Others answered their President’s call and risked everything to try to take back their capitol. The ideas spread like a virus, aided by Silicon Valley algorithms and investors that prize engagement above all.
QAnon believers may be the most extreme, but many of former (!) President Trump’s supporters are not so different. The popularity of both are grounded in a powerful man telling people: Trust your intuition! You are right, “they” are wrong. You are good, “they” are bad. You don’t need to feel bad about who you are or what you believe. You don’t need to change. And I will be your advocate, your hero. I will stand up for people like us. I will tell you what policies to evangelize, and you will blindly trust them, just as you blindly trust me and as you blindly trust yourself. It is grounded in a belief in a simple world, in good and evil, and in supervillains and superheroes.
Many organizations try to tell us what to think: corporations, political parties, the corporate media. Schools must be different. The internet brings with it more noise than ever before, and our education system must adapt and help students practice navigating this noise and develop a new kind of literacy and critical thinking. Fundamentally, they must teach not what to think but rather help them practice thinking for themselves.
Last Wednesday our democracy was attacked, and it won’t be the last time. QAnon filled a void, as did Trump. Both will eventually be replaced by something else, but the appetite for these ideas will remain. The best time for educators to confront this appetite was yesterday. The second best time is today.