In defense of flat earthers

The first time I heard about Flat Earthers, I thought the idea was a joke. Surely nobody would believe something so crazy. I didn’t think about it again for a while. Until I started seeing celebrities, including famous basketball players, claiming the world is flat

The rise of this phenomenon puzzled and concerned me, until I saw the recently popular viral video of a high schooler questioning her math education ,and it all made sense. We have Flat Earthers because of the way our education system works.

Schools, as they exist in most Western countries today, do not teach science as such. Mostly, they are simply a system of indoctrination. What does it mean to be indoctrinated in “science” class? Let’s think back to an example that most of us learned growing up. If I asked you, “What is the mitochondria,” you, like me, would probably say “it’s the powerhouse of the cell,” or some similar concept. If I asked you about Avogadro’s number, you might be able to remember what it is. If your education was like mine the number was handed out as a given and about a day was spent describing how stupendously big this number is.

However, if I ask you how or why these things came to be, you, also like me, would probably struggle to explain any further than the textbook has told us. The main problem is that most of the facts we are taught in school are all just things that were read in a book or told by an authority figure. We don’t come to them from scientific investigations.

For example, how would you go about locating mitochondria in a cell? How would you convince a skeptical person that mitochondria not only exist but are in fact the energy producers of the cell? How would you calculate Avagadro’s Number? Even being off by many orders of magnitude is still enough to convince yourself it’s a huge number. Being able to prove these things from first principles is real science.

If, for whatever reason a person “educated” in such a system stops believing their indoctrination and starts believing something else, we as a society shouldn’t be surprised at the results.

This type of scientific knowledge isn’t taught in school and there are a many reasons: not enough time, not enough funding, not enough qualified teachers, too many classes, if we go too in-depth on these subjects it will be a detriment to other subjects. All of this may be true but that doesn’t change the fact that schools do not teach science.

It’s no wonder, then, that the state of education will produce people who believe conspiracy theories. The moment someone stops taking the teacher’s or book’s word for this knowledge is the moment they are open to conspiracy theories. If real science was taught in school and children were given mental models and frameworks to prove and test their beliefs, it wouldn’t be so easy to convince someone to believe in the absurd.