Memes and Faulty Analogies


As we experience greater political discourse, people are engaging in social media to share their ideas and debate, but I wonder, how do you teach students about false analogies that often pop up in these images? We have spent time in the past talking about fake news and critical thinking, but the impact of memes in to transmit 'cultural ideas' is often not addressed. So, how do you teach students to dig deeper into a subject? Do you use memes in your classroom to generate discussion? 

We know people may often read information from a non-reliable source and we have tools and strategies to teach evaluating these sources, but how do you teach about false analogies and help students dive deeper into understanding issues. 

I'd love to learn from you. 
Kathy Tracey


Hi Kathy and all, Historian Alexis Coe, in a recent Time blog, "Twitter is Full of Fake History Photos: Here's How to Outsmart Them," walks through the steps one can take to uncover misleading images and the memes attached to them. She explains that it usually only takes a couple of minutes. This blog also includes a list of ten sites that feature images in historically accurate ways that might be useful for teaching.

I wonder if teachers might draw on Coe's steps to teach students this process.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Kathy and Susan, the term "meme" is a new one for me, and its concept is one I'll have to juggle with others for a bit. Of course, being able to tag unreliable information is a valuable skill, especially now when ideas spread faster than wildfire, which I know a lot about in Colorado's Four Corners region! I'll be working on educating myself to return here and, perhaps, add my two cents to the issue. In the meantime, I hope others join this thread with great ideas to help me grasp the concept better. I especially like the question, "How do you teach about false analogies and help students dive deeper into understanding issues?" I hope that tips pour in! Leecy

I remember discovering the word "meme" before it meant "big pictures on the Internet with bumper sticker type captions"  because it was a short silent e word that used e, and they're fairly rare... it meant "something basically everybody in a culture recognizes because it's embedded in their memories from repetition" and an example was Mickey Mouse icon.   

I think it's really, really important to teach about memes as propoganda and manipulators of our emotions... 

This discussion came to mind as the newest political battles rage through social media and arguments are brought down to "bumper sticker" comments and we are addressing the very nuances that lead to a good discussion. As we spend time teaching about the idea of fake news, I wonder about showing memes in class and using them as a way to discuss point of view, bias, credibility, and faulty logic. I'd love to see see ideas about how these memes are used in the classroom. 


I'd like to circle back to this discussion as we are seeing an increasing number of conspiracy theories in main stream and social media. In Conspiracy theories as part of history: The role of societal crisis situations  researchers Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Karen M. Douglas suggest that

societal crises such as wars, pandemics, and recessions give conspiracy theories great power because the theories satisfy deep psychological needs—which we all have to one degree or another—to lessen the anxieties of not knowing what will happen next and feeling out of control.

So where does that leave us as educators? As we work to improve our student's historical and information literacy, ability to navigate complex text, and build background knowledge, what strategies do provide educators to use when deconstructing conspiracy theories driven by memes. 

I invite you to review the brief article about teaching and conspiracy theories. Which strategies stood out to you? And how do you integate these ideas into your professional development trainings? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Kathy Tracey