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In the politically-heated and civic-minded age of 21st century America, the word indoctrination is often tossed around, especially among conservatives against the indoctrination of public school students to liberal ideas and among atheists against the indoctrination of children living in religious families. ^{[1], [2]}

I am not here to present my political or religious beliefs. Presently, I want only to open discuss this concept.

A few questions to consider:

  1. Is indoctrination bad?
  2. At what point does education cross the line into indoctrination?
  3. Do the accusations of indoctrination with regards to the student-school, religious parent-child, and other relationships have merit?

Any investigation into the social meaning and applicability of a concept must start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defined indoctrination as “instruction especially in fundamentals or rudiments.” Oxford Dictionaries has a slightly more specific definition: “the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”

Basically, to indoctrinate someone is to instill a set of beliefs in them through repeated instruction. According to this, indoctrination doesn’t strike me as evil. After all, don’t we all want others to believe what we believe? (This includes those who promote the idea that we should let others believe what they want to believe. In this case, you want everyone to believe what you believe about everyone being allowed to believe whatever they want to believe. Woo.)

Image from Open Minds Foundation

We hit a messy patch with the inclusion of the pejorative addition to the definition, which says that indoctrination involves forcing a set of beliefs on another in a rigid environment that doesn’t allow for questioning of the set of beliefs promoted. Given this extended definition, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who lauds indoctrination. Hence, much outrage erupts when news articles speak of the indoctrination of public school students or of children in religious families.

Indoctrination in this latter sense, then, is uncritical instruction. It is instruction that does not leave room for query or critical analysis.

I open the discussion to you now. Given the definition of indoctrination above, what do you think about the education-indoctrination difference and the veracity of indoctrination accusations? For example, is a Christian who raises his or her child in the Christian faith indoctrinating him or her? Is a presentation of liberal or nontheistic ideas in public schools a form of indoctrination? At what point do such practices become indoctrination, if they aren’t already?

I look forward to hearing what you think.

[1] Hinderaker, John. “Left-Wing Indoctrination in the Schools: It’s Worse Than You Think.” Powerline, 13 July 2017. Web.
[2] “Childhood Religious Indoctrination.” Journey Free, n.d. Web.