Ohhh boy. You touch on numerous topics near and dear to me.
When I taught freshman English to college kids almost 30 years ago, it was “level 2” — my students were already proficient at spelling, grammar, etc. — so the focus was on content. While they were used to reciting things like “who is the main character,” I taught them to look for the author’s underlying goals, who their target audience was, how that would affect what they wrote, and more.
I (and my fellow TA’s) taught the kids to think critically for the first time in their lives, and it was a major eye opener for them. They’d start each semester thinking that anything in the news and text books was pure “fact,” and end by analyzing everything, trusting few. I was very grateful to be part of a program that taught what may be the single most important thing these students learned in college. Sadly, however, I don’t think that’s happening in most settings (home or education) and most kids are never exposed to it unless — perhaps — they go to grad school. Likewise, when one thinks that way, things aren’t “opinions” so much as “right” or “wrong.” (You can see where that’s a problem in our current political atmosphere.)
So if kids are being taught by those in positions of authority to blindly accept what they’re told, then it only stands to figure that they can’t sort out fantasy from reality and “reality TV” only makes it worse. I’m not much of a TV watcher and have never been interested in reality TV, but it’s been interesting — and horrifying — to watch as a cultural phenomenon. I remember a woman I know posting something that was demonstrably false on Facebook, so I responded with the Snopes link. Her reply? “That’s okay, because it could be true (emphasis mine). What even is that — the Twilight Zone???
The more insidious piece of all of this is that when politicians and the other powers-that-be downplay public education as they have been more and more, a big part of their goal is to ensure that the masses remain unable to figure any of this out. It’s large-scale brainwashing to ensure that nobody challenges the one percenters, white supremacy, etc. and the overall power structure. Some of the media is complicit, while others are too busy competing with reality TV and our lack of attention span to produce deep, thoughtful content. Either way, the American public loses.