Education or Indoctrination?

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

What’s the difference between education and indoctrination? Many educators today refuse to openly discuss their personal worldview with their students, claiming that they would not want to unduly influence them. However, the teacher’s worldview is still very much undergirding their teaching, whether or not they acknowledge it. Students’ thinking will be shaped in some way by their teacher’s worldview; the question is, will it be done out in the open, with students being given the freedom to challenge it?

All education is normative. The difference for the classical educator is that he makes known the norms that guide him… students cannot discover their own norms in isolation, as evidenced by the acknowledged need for coaches, mentors, and music teachers, not to mention parents…  Education has become increasingly ideological, holding to unacknowledged dogma and thereby removing its own dogma from the challenges of dialectical engagement.”*

An educator’s worldview may be shaped by their upbringing, their education, and their culture. Sometimes it may even be shaped by the government.

The other night we watched “Under the Sun”, a documentary about life in North Korea. Actual footage was smuggled out of the country, past North Korean officials who did not approve the version we watched.

The film features scenes from the North Korean educational system. At the beginning of the school day, we see a line of students and teachers file quietly past a huge mural of the North Korean leaders, pausing briefly to pay homage to the images. Line ups are eerily quiet, with no one showing any signs of even the slightest rebellion against authority.

Little girls gather in their classroom near a radiator that does not seem to be working, their breath visible in the frigid air. They begin their highly controlled and rigid lesson with their teacher, who leads them to an appreciation of their country’s leader that mimics and essentially mocks worship.

The teacher uses a question and response technique that drills into the girls’ minds exactly what the government would have them believe about their world, and their country in relation to it. She is the passionate incarnation of the pride and hatred toward the western world, spouted by the communist regime. I wonder, is she merely playacting for the camera? Or does she really believe it?

It seems that in North Korea, the children are forced to honor their political leaders above their own parents. The manufactured holiday, “The Day of the Shining Star”, is the country’s celebration of the birthday of the departed leader Kim Jong-il. This is the day they choose to induct children into the “Korean Children’s Union” where in the names of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un, the inductees swear in accordance with the spirit of the “Great Generalissimos” to be reliable reservists in the building up of communism.

The substitution of this unholy trinity for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an obvious attempt to obliterate God from the consciousness of children and replace Him with the false gods of the North Korean leadership. Kim Jong-il is described in their induction as being “always with us” and having “sacrificed everything so that students will be happy and have a bright future.” He is called a “loving father” and it is asserted by the master of ceremonies that “the world has no other loving father” like him, who “sacrificed his entire life for the happiness of children!” After their swearing in, military veterans tie red kerchiefs around the necks of children: the noose of communism.

The danger in our own country of children being indoctrinated with propaganda is also real. I recall an incident where all the students in a school were given pink t-shirts to wear, with this slogan emblazoned across the front: “Respect the right to be different.” The irony of everyone in the school wearing that same t-shirt seemed to be lost on the organizers. What does this doublethink do to a child’s mind?

In a Christian school, the danger of indoctrination is no less of a threat. As Christian educators, we must train our students to demand convincing evidence before they accept statements, including ours, as truth. However, this does not mean that we neglect to teach our students that there is such a thing as truth.

We ought to teach our students to subject any worldviews they encounter to vigorous tests for truth. As the apologist Ravi Zacharias states, “The three tests for truth must be applied to any worldview: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message is utterly unique and meets the demand for truth.”

We teachers ought to be up front with our own ideological standpoint, while at the same time encouraging our students to challenge it through thorough examination and dialogue. Since we know that Christianity is a worldview that can withstand any testing, we can have every confidence in allowing it to be freely and rigorously tested and evaluated.


*quote from Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, Veith and Kern, 2015, pages 49-50.

Repealing the “Spanking Law”

parent child

Image: Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have announced their plans to repeal the so-called “Spanking Law” as part of their commitment to implement all of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The TRC investigated the past abuse of aboriginal children in Canadian residential schools and made 94 recommendations to the government to promote reconciliation between the offended and the offenders.

One of their recommendations was that the government repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code. It reads:

“Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

Let’s be clear, this law does not allow for teachers to spank students. In January 2004, the Supreme Court stated that “teachers may reasonably apply force to remove a child from a classroom or secure compliance with instructions, but not merely as corporal punishment.”[i]

Today, the vast majority of child abuse happens in the home, not in schools. Repealing Section 43 will do nothing to prevent child abuse, and may well harm children.

There is a role that the authorities have to play in rescuing children from abusive situations. I spent more than eight years working as a Family Support Worker with children who were at risk for neglect or abuse. I sat in their homes, talked with their families, and heard their stories. I saw children being separated from their parents and being placed in foster care.

As bad as some of those homes were, they were the only homes these children knew. Leaving their parents was always difficult for them, even in the most abusive situations. Even the best foster homes weren’t really “home” for these kids. But in some rare situations, it really is in the children’s best interests to be permanently removed from their natural home.

I think we can all agree, however, that this is not ideal. Most of the time, children belong with their parents, which is why the systematic removal of aboriginal children from their natural families was so devastating.

One of the horrors of the Residential Schools tragedy was that children were ripped away from their parents and had to grow up apart from their families, stripped of their identity and security.

So, why would we want to repeal Section 43 and give the government more power to take children away from their families? It doesn’t make any sense.

Do we really want an already overwhelmed social services system and court system dealing with cases that should never be brought before a judge?

Imagine a scenario where loving parents warn their child not to run into traffic, and when he does he gets a swat on the behind. A neighbour reports this to social services and they have to investigate. Perhaps the child has to be removed from the home during the investigation, which means he may go to a foster home. Then they have to appear before a judge, which could drag on indefinitely with our backlogged court system. Not only do the parents have to endure the avoidable awfulness of such a trial, but the child has to endure the unwarranted loss of his home and family, even temporarily.

Section 43 is already worded in such a way as to avoid cases like this coming before a judge in the first place. It not only protects parents and teachers who are disciplining in love, but it protects children from the ordeal of unnecessary removal and separation from their families.

Those who argue in favor of repealing Section 43 argue that “We don’t allow husbands to hit their wives so why do we allow parents to spank their children?” This is akin to arguing that, “We don’t allow husbands to give their wives a time-out, so why do we allow parents to give their children one?” The parent-child relationship is obviously very different from the spousal relationship.

Their argument also falsely equates assault with the use of physical correction. Do some parents cross the line and abuse their children in anger? Yes, but we already have a law preventing the excessive use of force against a child. Proper parental use of physical correction, done calmly with self-control and with love, is not child abuse.

If the government redefines child abuse to include physical correction, not only will they be setting themselves up for an even more overloaded social services system, but they will ironically be perpetrating the same crime that was committed against children and parents in Residential Schools so many years ago: they will be usurping parental authority and needlessly splitting up families all over again.


“While corporal punishment itself is not reasonable in the school context, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded that teachers may use force to remove children from classrooms or secure compliance with instructions.” See

For Sale: Curricular Control

cc Flickr user dana rocks

by Tina Olesen

Imagine for a moment that your church became a “public” church, where everyone’s beliefs had to be accommodated. Imagine that your church agreed to compromise the teaching of the Bible in exchange for a steady stream of financial support from the government. Now imagine that you had no option but to support this public church with your tax dollars. You would never let this happen to your church, you say? Then why have we let it happen to our schools?

To understand where we are now, let’s look back at some North American history. Puritans fleeing religious persecution in England established schools in America, with the main purpose being to teach their children how to read the Bible so they wouldn’t be deluded by Satan (see The Old Deluder Satan Act, Massachusetts, 1647). With the growth of immigration and industrialism in the 1700s, commercial subjects began to be emphasized over religious instruction in the schools. At the same time, Catholics and Protestants were fighting it out for the right to have their children trained in their own religion. Many Protestants advocated for non-sectarian schools, as they mistakenly assumed that the religious default position would be Protestantism. Wanting to access the government coffers, schools agreed to secularize their curriculum further, in exchange for government funding. They effectively sold control over their schools to the state.

There were similar battles for control fought here in Canada. English Protestants who were concerned about French Catholic domination sought government protection for the right to educate their children according to their beliefs, and fought against a nondenominational common school system.  Parallel school systems emerged, with the Anglican Protestants forming what we now know as the “public” school system, and the Catholics retaining their own separate schools. In some provinces, heated battles were fought by parents to retain government funding for Catholic schools.  Sometimes this was also tied to French language and culture rights (e.g. The Manitoba Schools Question).  Protestant public schools gradually came under scrutiny for having a denominational bias, so biblical teaching was watered down to the lowest common denominator, and eventually done away with in most schools altogether. In order to receive state aid, schools would have to demonstrate that they were serving the aims of the state, at the cost of curricular independence. State funding could only be had with state control.

One of the main differences between the American and Canadian school systems is in how they are governed. In America, a U. S. Department of Education exists, but in Canada, we have no such federal governing body; education comes under the responsibility of provincial governments. American President Andrew Johnson established the first national Department of Education in the USA in 1867, with the stated purpose of collecting information and statistics. By 1868 the “Department” was demoted to an “Office of Education” over concerns that it would exercise too much control. But in the 1970s, the Department of Education was re-established to oversee federal education funding, collect data and do research, and ensure that laws which prohibit discrimination would be followed. What started in the 1800s with four employees and a budget of $15,000 grew to nearly 4,300 employees and a budget of about $60 billion by 2010, according to the department’s website.

One of the things the U. S. Department of Education does not do, according to its website, is exercise control over the curriculum or standards. So, what are the Common Core State Standards?  These are a set of educational standards said to be developed in a state-led initiative, without federal involvement; but the Obama administration has apparently provided certain federal financial incentives to those states willing to adopt the Common Core. Nearly all the states have now signed on. Critics of the Common Core are concerned about an overemphasis on standardized testing and the collection of private student data. Others warn of the potential danger that the Common Core might allow the United Nations to influence the curriculum (see links below).

North American parents currently enjoy the freedom of having the option to educate their children in privately funded schools or at home. This is not the case in some other nations. In Germany, the state controls the education system to the degree that homeschooling is outlawed. Hitler introduced compulsory school attendance during the Nazi era. One German family who recently attempted to homeschool had their children removed by state authorities, and were not reunited with them until they agreed to send the children to a state school.

As history teaches us, the more we have allowed the state to take over the responsibility of educating our children in exchange for securing government funding, the less control we have retained over the curriculum. It was the word of God which was sacrificed on the altar of compromise.

The Lord Jesus has given us the privilege and responsibility of teaching our children to follow Him. We are to teach them to fear Him (Deut. 4:10, Ps. 34:11) and to know His law (Ps. 78:5). We are to love Him with all our hearts, and lay up His words in our heart and soul, teaching them to our children in our homes and all throughout our days (Deut. 6:5-9, 11:18-19). We ought not to sell that privilege for anything.

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More on this topic:

Article: Common Core: UN Takeover of Education in America, by Lynn Teger, May 23rd, 2013.

Paper: The Core Problem: Preventing the United Nations Takeover of K-12 Education in America, by Jim Kelly, April 26, 2013.

Paper: Controlling Education From the Top – Why Common Core Is Bad for America, A Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project White Paper by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, May 2012.

Speech: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),  November 4, 2010.