Indoctrination is a powerful word. The concept of teaching a group of people to accept your beliefs without question has an air of force to it. So much so, that to think of it happening to you is kind of frightening. As of late, I’ve seen this word used in several accusations towards teachers, publicly and in my personal life.
Normally, I’d avoid writing about something quite this controversial. It’s a proverbial lightning rod, and I tend to stay away from those topics. But because student empowerment and equity are at the heart of my teaching philosophy, I feel compelled to say something.
Our students come to us, a culmination of their experiences and the learning they do outside of our classrooms. As we all know, they bring a range of backgrounds, some fantastic and some heartbreaking. They are individuals, unique and budding, on the road to realizing their potential and beginning to find their places in the world.
As someone who believes that student voice matters, I encourage my children to share their opinions. I want them to discuss their beliefs with one another, to experience multiple perspectives. I want to broaden their experience of the world, through literature and poetry and research. I want them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges we face, they face, as they become more active global citizens. I want them to feel comfortable sharing what they think, and hearing the input of others around them. I facilitate questions, responses, and respectful conversations surrounding each person’s ideals. I also challenge their thinking and encourage them to discover their reasoning or foundation for their ideas. I promote acceptance, respect, and the quest for deeper understanding.
In my mind, that’s exactly what educators should be doing. Regardless of the nature of my students’ beliefs or opinions, I think they should be explored—by the kids themselves. I think they should also hear the way that others think, and should engage in recognizing multiple different perspectives. I also advocate that they should witness how their beliefs affect those around them, and how their words can influence the people closest to them.
I do not, by any means, indoctrinate my kids. I do not expect them to bend their beliefs or alter their opinions. I do not encourage them to change what they think or adopt an alternate point of view. Ever. That is their decision to make, their own personal evolution through discovery. I will challenge them, play the opposing side, and encourage them to delve into why they hold a particular belief. But in no way do I share my own thinking, nor do I persuade them into parroting my personal ideals. What I do is teach my kids to think critically, analyze information, respectfully engage in conversation, ask questions, and develop their own views.
Indoctrination, by its definition, is to teach others to accept a set of beliefs uncritically, without question. I teach my students not to accept any beliefs, including their own, without question. I teach them that no opinions should be adopted without consideration, without developing a deeper understanding. I teach them that no set of ideals is inherently wrong, but that disagreement and conversation are necessary and make us better. I teach them that our different perspectives are valuable, and that all should be listened to and heard.
I encourage disagreement and conversation, because it is vital. True discussion and debate help us expand our thinking and experience so that we may move forward with more information than we had before. We learn to listen instead of waiting for our turn to speak, to criticize an ideal but not a person, and to separate a set of beliefs from the human being in front of us. We learn to promote equity instead of equality, and to recognize the difference between the two. We see that our words have consequences, and that we have to accept them when we set out to make a point. We learn that concession isn’t bad, because sometimes we were wrong and it’s not just okay, but even honorable to admit it.
Above all, we learn that questioning and thinking for ourselves are necessary, and that when someone attempts to indoctrinate us with a set of beliefs we do not agree with, we by no means have to give in.