A misuse of love and fear

To find the line between education and indoctrination, look at the idea being hammered in.

students 88 (photo credit: )
students 88
(photo credit: )
When I was at high school we were told of a teacher who once brought to class, along with textbooks and notes, a special treat for the students. It wasn't some engrossing book about nuclear physics in the late 19th century or a captivating diagram showing the structure of a frog's brain, but political flyers to hand out to the students. The precise details of the flyer are lost somewhere in the dusty attic of my mind, but I remember that it propagandized one of the fringe ideologies. Throughout my school years, politics were quite frequently interwoven with education. Teachers would speak to us about the subject, often revealing their viewpoints, and I remember a few who even recurrently, if subtly, tried to persuade us of the justness of their beliefs. In general my high school was politically oriented, and the height of this was a weekly lesson called "Family Name: Israel," which some students claimed was explicitly left-wing. Back then I felt a sense of disquiet during such lessons. Today I see them as a manipulation of authority - possibly inadvertent, but still inappropriate - in order to indoctrinate ideologically. WHERE IS the line between education and indoctrination? Indoctrination is based upon fear of authority, and its method is reiteration. In schools there is a fear of authority, and reiteration may be utilized for purely educational purposes. But education seeks to benefit students, to develop their personalities and improve their lives, whereas the core of indoctrination and propaganda is to fulfill an ideology without concern for the individual, though those who indoctrinate often contend that by embedding their strongly held principles in the consciousness (and unconscious) of their subjects they in fact do benefit them personally. It's the idea that's being hammered in that tips the scale. If teachers exhorted us to believe it was a pomegranate and not an apple that fell on Newton's head, no one would care as long as they didn't deny the laws of gravity. But crazy ideas have become world-shaking doctrines. Ideas are amorphous things whose significance to us can swerve easily. Indoctrination is a matter of orientation - what one community sees as indoctrination, others might see as education. Educators must therefore lay a thick fence along the blurred line between the two, and be wary of manipulating their authority and crossing it. ON ANOTHER educational front there's real indoctrination going on - copiously and on a very personal scale - for here the main educators are also the main indoctrinators: parents. And for most of them that blurred line doesn't even exist. Some things parents teach their children are purely educational. Don't hit, don't swear, don't speak with your mouth full - these rules are taught in order to ram in decent comportment and improve the child personally. After they are implanted, and as kids come of age, parents spur their children's independence. They begin to roam the city, travel the seven blocks, and make decisions independently. Education develops independence of thought and judgment. Indoctrination cancels them out. Now think carefully: When did you first have a political belief, no matter how rudimentary, and where did you get it from? The answer I suspect most people would come up with, as I did, is that our first political beliefs come mostly directly from our parents. Even if they don't, parents who do not politically indoctrinate their children, knowingly or not, are few and far between. It only takes, say, a pejorative statement here and there about the "occupation," or occasional invective concerning "those Arabs." Utterances like these implant political beliefs easily. Most parents do much more. When a child expresses doubt about something political a parent says, or brings home the opposite belief from school, parents will often persuade their kids about the errors of that belief and the righteousness of their own. By the time kids turn into teenagers, most likely they'll just be spouting all the stuff they heard at home, adolescent rebellion notwithstanding. Indoctrination gives a one-sided view, leaving little room for discussion. How many parents really discuss politics with their children - not just an occasional word or two, but a genuine debate over the possible downsides of their own beliefs and the pros of the opposing ones? CHIEFLY, indoctrination is based on fear of authority, and though children may love and revere their parents, they fear them too. While parents may not be sinister totalitarians, many fail to elucidate the relativity of political truth. When a belief in something is sturdy and well-founded, one should of course continue to hold it dear - but one must at the same time be prepared to cast doubt upon it; all the more so when imparting it to others, such as one's children. Pure and powerful emotions like love and fear should not be misused. The writer, who has just graduated high school, lives in Jerusalem.