James Paul Gee’s book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning befuddles many readers. Even the title alone is a bit befuddling. What does he mean by anti-education, and what is this book really about? Basically, Gee sets out to answer the question, “Why are humans so stupid?”
It’s easy to see how this book can be offensive to people. Gee basically writes over and over and in so many words that people are dumb, and they do not even realize that they are dumb. When discussing this book during class, one MAET alumni made a great point; this book is written for Gee’s cheerleaders. Only people who agree with Gee, and who are reflective and open-minded will find any value in what he says. Otherwise, people will just think of him as offensive and up on a high horse.
For example, in the first chapter, Gee raises the point of socialized health care (or lack thereof) in the United States in relation to abortion. “We demonize as traitors those who disagree with us. We call ourselves ‘pro-life’ because we oppose abortion and yet oppose universal health care and thus let thousands of children and adults die because they lack health insurance” (Gee, 2013, p. 3). While this point is highly radical and controversial, it illustrates his point. Humans are dumb because we focus only on the things that go against what we believe, and therefore, never learn anything new. We also become offended when others disagree rather than try and understand them. In other words, our problems will never be solved if we only address the problems that we care about or agree with.
There are many limitations that humans face when grappling with a giant problem with a clear-cut solution. I think that more often than not, people expect a tidy solution to things like taxation, war, privacy protection, etc. and become surprised when people don’t agree with their solution. Gee points out that people do not understand complicated social problems because of they are too busy taking offense. “[…] people seek out and remember information that supports their beliefs and ignore the information that does not” (Gee, 2013, p. 2). How can we expect to understand a problem if we do not take in all sides of it? Thus the cycle of stupidity continues.
Gee does not spend the entire book bashing and criticizing. He often brings up the point of collaboration as a means of casting off stupidity, “We often cannot discover what constitutes as a good result or a fruitful path of action all by ourselves” (Gee, 2013, p. 159).
The Internet should be a basis for us to achieve this collaboration, but in many ways, the opposite has occurred. In a Huffington Post article, Dr. Andrew Weil once stated, “to be clear, I worry as much about the impact of the Internet as anyone else. I worry about […] the potential for coarsening discourse as millions of web pages compete for attention by appealing to our base instincts” (Weil, 2010). The Internet is full of bias and unfiltered, inaccurate information. According to Gee, and I agree with him, people are not “smart” enough to wade through this online bog intelligently. If I were to put this idea into my own words, I would say that people choose to access the news and information that fits with what they believe. I realize that my stance on this may be as harsh as Gee’s. However, reflection on our own as well as others’ ideas is a vital part of being intelligent and wise. Do I do this all the time? No…my personal politics and values often cloud my understanding. I appreciate Gee for calling this to people’s attention.
It’s easy to get up on a soapbox about the way other people argue and act. People have come a long way from having intelligent discussions about their opinions. In fact the whole foundation of America was built on being able to say what we feel without being villianized for it. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” Discourse is the means to understanding, not demonizing and blatant disagreement. Gee wants to remind us of that.
Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Weil, A. (2010, September 24). Fortunately, ‘corn sugar’ has become a sticky pr mess. Breaking news and opinion on the huffington post. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-weil-md/fortunately-corn-sugar-ha_b_738324.html