06 July 2024

“AI”, students, and epistemic crisis

Weird interaction with a student this week. They keep coming up with weird “facts” (“Greek is actually a combination of four other languages”) that left me baffled. I said let’s look this stuff up together, and they said OK, I’ll open a search bar, and they opened … Ch*tGPT. And I was like “this is not a search bar” and they were like “yes it is, you can search for anything in here”.

The thing that made me feel crazy is like, every kid that’s using this as a browser is getting new bespoke false “facts”. This isn’t “a widespread misconception about X that stems from how it’s taught in schools.” Each individual kid is now hooked into a Nonsense Machine.

With the “widespread misconception about X” you can start at a baseline. Like, OK, in tenth grade we talk about X thing from history, and that leaves us with some misguided concepts about X, but we can correct that as students get broader understandings of the world. But with this, each child is getting unique wrong facts they are sure are correct … because they did what we told them to do! They “looked it up”! They got it from somewhere! It’s not a kid making up a belief on hearsay and assumption … it’s something they think they learned.

This kid was extremely combative with me, and I understood why. I was sitting in front of him telling him that the internet, a computer, technology, all these supposedly authoritative things … were wrong. And that I, one person, was right. He basically couldn’t believe me. He decided that I was simply a teacher who’d made a mistake. He could check it, after all! He could look it up! He could find the real facts. I obviously hadn’t done that, I was just an adult who’d decided I was smarter than him. Hence the defensiveness. Like I said: I understood.

It was so fucking rough. I did my best, but I am one person trying to work against a campaign of misinformation so vast that it fucking terrifies me. This kid is being set up for a life lived entirely inside the hall of mirrors.

Transcribed from Twitter. The author took it down because of harassment, so I am not going to point to who they were. Not that I know anything about them anyway. So you have to make your own tricky call about whether and how it is relevant.

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