When I first opened James Gee’s book, The Anti-Education Era, I was stunned by his reiterating use of the word Stupidity. He uses it so broadly, and so frequently, that I found myself frustrated that he didn’t define it. He continued, for 147 pages, to describe the lengths and varieties of Human Stupidity, without actually pausing to give meaning to such an increasingly inane word. And while he made many salient points, I was annoyed not only by his treatment of similar adjectives, but by their swarthy application to our shared species—which I thought spoke to his arrogance. In fact, by page 6 he states, “This book, then, is devoted to my own version of Orwell’s question: how can smart people—like me and you—be so dumb? I pursue the question because, as a human being, I find it so fascinating. My own stupidity, not to mention yours, amazes me,” (Gee, 2013). Surely such a person, with such a fixation, is a thinker of which to be cautious.
Ironically, one of Gee’s listed solutions to the problem of human stupidity lies in the idea of linking into a collective—of which we (and he) are a part—with equal parts eagerness to share, and a reticence to allow others to do our thinking for us. This is where the reading of his book, after becoming inured to his almost feverish excitement over human failures, became worthwhile. Gee spends no less than 16 chapters describing the depth of human limitations before beginning to propose solutions. He suggests that humans must be, “’plug-and-play entities’, not stand-alone entities, when we are at our best. That is the only way we humans have built bridges and cities and cured diseases,” (Gee, 2013, pg. 164). Much like a computer, humans must be a synchronous Mind, which offers the ability to construct, collaborate, and innovate for the benefit of all. I particularly appreciated his emphasis on the benefit for all. In a later chapter, he describes the innate human need to feel valued within society, and the need for an Inclusive “We” (Gee, 2013, pg. 213).
This is easier said than done though, which is where the irony is found. He is careful to note that we cannot be mindless when we plug into the Mind, that when asked the question, “What do YOU think WE should do?” we need to have our own, well-thought, educated answer. He states, speaking as an expert, “If you cannot help answer this question and motivate people to action for a vision, or if you trust ‘experts’ or politicians to answer it alone, you have not been educated,” (Gee, 2013, pg. 214). This suggests that the Mind can be just as dangerous as it is beneficial, and that we have an obligation to make that space (wherever we find it) one that is educative and edifying.
This brings value to his rant about stupidity. It’s only through knowing our limitations, and understanding the role of education in this context, that we can begin to overcome them. When we acknowledge this, and work to make the Mind healthy, we can begin to solve complex problems smartly.
Paul, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era . New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.