Why We Need Humane Education: May 21 and the Failed Rapture

Six p.m. came and went and no rapture on May 21. It seemed that almost everyone I talked to that weekend knew about Reverend Camping’s prediction. And most of us laughed it off. After months of media attention, billboards, emails, tweets, discussions on Facebook, and more, we could be snarky about such a silly prediction. And so the jokes ensued. My husband joked that I'd better not be on a plane that day in case the pilots were raptured in flight. I made my own jokes the morning of May 22 to our staff at the Institute for Humane Education, and we agreed that with no rapture forthcoming, we’d have to keep working on fixing the world.

But the more I think about this whole hoopla, the more unsettled by it I feel. Camping preyed on people’s gullibility and vulnerability. And those who believed and spread his message did likewise. And the media gave this silliness attention, so we all knew about it. Who knows how many people gave up their jobs, spent their life savings, and changed their lives in anticipation of rapture, only to have rent to pay and food to buy and lives to continue? It’s easy to think that it serves them right for being so foolish, but this is who we are as humans -- easily manipulatable and eager followers (as the Milgram and Stanford prison experiments and the brown eyes/blue eyes exercise reveal).

Once again, there is a solution to this sort of thing: humane education. We must educate youth to use their minds, their reason, their critical thinking capacities, and their ability to research, investigate, inquire and learn. Only when we are able to think clearly and rationally can we hope to keep at bay the brainwashing, influences, and manipulations that come our way constantly: through media, advertising, religious crusaders, and politicians who prey on our emotions and create a fervor of (pick one or more): fear, rage, and/or greed, while simultaneously fostering self-aggrandizement and overconfidence in what has been fed to us as “truth.” Fear-mongering and hatred and the instigation of rage come from both left and right. We are preyed upon as much by the purveyors of beauty products endlessly generating self-doubt as we are by pundits on opinion shows encouraging us to hate others and to feel empowered when we follow their true path, and equally by religious zealots telling us what to believe, as Camping did.

Before we scoff at Camping’s "silly followers," let’s remember how susceptible we all are to influencers and manipulators (even when we think we are not). And let’s commit to educating the next generation to have the skills they desperately need (and which the world desperately needs) to think well and clearly for a healthy world for all.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"

Image courtesy of Analogick via Creative Commons.

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