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Conspiracy theories and the classroom 

As the American election showed, one of the biggest threats to democracy is the rise of disinformation.  And the problem is not likely to go away. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the spreading of a range of disinformation, misinformation and conspiracy theories.  From 5G masts, Bill Gates’ microchips, through to photos ‘showing’ empty Covid wards.  Large events such as pandemics naturally lead to uncertainty and the quest for answers.   Your auntie/uncle/friend made some quick searches online, which led to some very interesting findings.  Before you know it, they are playing the role of a ‘detective’ getting closer and closer to the ‘real’ answers.  Does this sound familiar? 

Of course, pre-pandemic the UK was no stranger to conspiracy  - a Yougov poll in 2019 suggested that 60% of Britons held belief at least one conspiracy theory (ref).   Recent events have seen a growth in the QAnon conspiracy theory in the UK.   This is a fluid set of beliefs stemming from the ‘information drops’ of an anonymous government insider called ‘Q’.  Beliefs vary and change but include the idea that many democratic politicians, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy individuals are involved in a child abuse ring, which may be satanic and involves drinking the blood of children.  And it’s not just your auntie.  In 2020 the charity Hope not Hate found that 35% of 18-24s surveyed agreed with the claim that “Secret Satanic cults exist and include influential elites”.   These are recent school leavers.  Which begs the question of what role schools might play in developing resilience to conspiracy thinking and disinformation?

As a lecturer in citizenship education, I have been working with teachers for a number of years on the teaching of controversial issues in the classroom.  Recently, as part of a broader research project on the spread of disinformation, I have been developing guidance for teachers on how to respond to conspiracy theories in the classroom.  With ACT I will be leading a teacher CPD session/discussion on this topic on July 15.  Please sign up and join us.    


Jeremy Hayward is a former teacher and is now a lecturer specialising in the fields of citizenship education and the teaching of controversial issues at the Institute of Education, UCL.  He has been involved in teacher education for the last 20 years, including leading the citizenship PGCE for over 10 years.  He is the author of a range of textbooks, resources and guidance for schools in the areas of philosophy and citizenship.

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