The word ‘indoctrination’ sounds really scary to people. The modern world is described as postmodern, and while defining that latter term is difficult, a certain element that stands out in the notion as a whole is a level of Post-Modern-Philosophy-Stress Disorder (PMPSD). We live in a world where the modernist science project has failed, where no secular philosophy has successfully gained a power-hold over any other, and where people generally see religion as a failed project. In this day and age it is expected that no one talks about their beliefs too much and that they hold them privately, away from the prodding eyes of others. The stress of the philosophical and theological wars of the past are too much and now the slightest mention of them can be the instigation of an anxiety attack, or, at the very least, a figurative bomb that destroys relationships.
Nowhere is this PMPSD more palpable, seemingly, than in western education. Explicitly due to the social trauma of our collective past, it was decided in some capacity that depriving our students of explicit moral instruction and separating the moral instruction from the rest of a student’s education was beneficial so that students were not being indoctrinated into a specific philosophy or theology. That, according to society, is meant for the parents to decide at home or to have their children pursue independently from explicitly religious or philosophical institutions. Should children be indoctrinated it would mean that they had been under some false pretense, because, according to the trauma directing future choices, any engagement with indoctrination must be under some false pretense. If there were no pretense, it would not have led to the trauma and destruction of the past.
There is a key element of discussion to be remembered when we analyze the meaning of the word ‘indoctrination.’ The word means to enter (in-) into a teaching (-doctrin-). What would it mean to entirely avoid indoctrination, as the postmodern world wants to avoid? It would mean not instructing our children! It would mean allowing students free choice to think about the world, and affirming whatever their thoughts are, right from the start. It would mean not guiding them up into our current knowledge, and instead have them stray off wherever they wanted to be. This idea would be called relativism, where everyones’ individual beliefs would be independently affirmed and allowed, regardless of their conflict with each other – each man’s reality is true to himself.
Of course, I am being slightly misleading in suggesting that postmodern thought is entirely relativistic, as it is not. Postmodern thought is the bounce back from pure relativism that was abound in the latter part of the XXth century, which ultimately accepts that some sort of ‘indoctrination,’ if you will, is necessary in order for humans to exist. It is as if our human nature has a universal fault that requires us to live in some sort of degrading hierarchy.
This discussion is ultimately important when we think about our schools. While postmodern thinking accepts that some hierarchy is necessary, it still tries to avoid the evil that is indoctrination. If a student becomes lost to one way of thinking, then they are doomed forever. As I have been building up to, however, this is unavoidable. When students go to school for 12 grades for education, they are going to get some kind of indoctrination. There is no working around it! If Christian parents raise their children ‘free’ of indoctrination so that they can come to their own conclusion about religion and faith, then the parents have not raised a child properly free of indoctrination, they have indoctrinated them with agnosticism.
The point of this article is to raise to the front of your mind the fact that indoctrination is inevitable. Your child, one way or another, is going to form a frame of reference to understand the world. They have to. How else can they even survive? Schools themselves cannot be purely agnostic in their approach to education, either. It just doesn’t work that way. Specifically, also, I want to take to task English education at the High School level.
I have met quite a few English teachers over time. I have been in my fair share of English classes. Especially at the High School level, and probably earlier, grammatical skill in the language is no longer the main point of focus. At this higher level it is about logic and comprehension as much as anything. Usually this involves reading books and other literature and learning to comprehend the deeper meanings of literature as well as come up with original ideas about these readings. Teachers sensitive to topics of racism and feminism well understand that the material chosen can impact their students deeply, and if they choose literature insensitive to minority races or specific genders, they are moving into hurtful territory. Why? Because the topics at hand deeply affect the mind and education of the students.
Most teachers I know are aware of this. They do not plan out their classes solely on the idea of some standard education. They contemplate the messages and themes that they can teach to their students by reading certain material or by doing specific discussions. They know that they can teach their kids grander ideas by reading and interpreting in a specific direction. They can teach children the value of respecting others, they can teach them about perceiving beauty and they can teach them how to explain their own thoughts. They also, however, can teach them that Western Society’s hierarchy is inherently hurtful and disparaging, that there is no redemption of our Christian past, that only a progressive society is a good one.
Even if a teacher builds their class to be receptive to the plurality of ideas that can come from students and does their best to avoid tempting students into any one direction, the teacher will have certain presuppositions about how they build their class. In this way, in the construction of the system that the students inevitably participate in, will lead to some kind of indoctrination on the part of the student. We must then not assume that an education can be free of indoctrination, and we must not assume that our students are not being led into any specific direction of thought. We cannot pretend, either, that students who go off to school for most of the day and do not have a lot of solid interaction with their parents on a regular basis are going to automatically follow the education of their parents. It matters where kids go to school and who the teachers are that lead their class.
Instead of shying away from that fearful idea of indoctrination, we should instead embrace it and step into it. We should be intentional in our direction and we should not be shy about what that direction is. We should make deliberate choices on behalf of our children that guide them into a specific step so that they are not burdened by the choice of philosophy when they are not even capable of understanding it. Even more, we, as adults, should civilly, but passionately, debate our philosophies. We should indoctrinate our children and be so comfortable in the philosophy with which we do it that there are no qualms behind it. We should not be apathetic to the indoctrination of our children, because our apathy there results in apathetic kids, and apathetic adults are a worse disease to society than any physical illness that might destroy our society.