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.

Critical Thinking

thinkerby Tina Olesen

Many of our students are wading perilously through the glut of misinformation and propaganda proliferated by the media and internet, without the tools to think critically about what they are taking in. We have the responsibility to train our future leaders to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and quality of information.

Before the internet, mainstream media remained competitive by providing high quality information. Accuracy was valued, and procedures were in place to verify information. To a degree, accountability was built in to the process.

In the internet age, we now enjoy free flowing information and up to the minute news, which is mainly uncensored. Anyone can publish anything at any time, without having to convince anyone to publish it. There is no “gatekeeper.”

This means virtually no earthly accountability – which can be a recipe for anarchy. Scammers, con-artists, crooks, propagandists and predators have made the most of this environment, and many children are unprotected from these outlaws.

On average, children are exposed to 7.5 hours of media a day, seven days a week — that’s more time than they spend in a classroom.  Children watch an estimated 40,000 TV commercials per year (over 100 a day).

The US Department of Education reported that 81% of children aged 2 – 7 watch TV unsupervised. In a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of kids surveyed had no rules about what they are allowed to do on the computer. 71% of these kids had a TV in their bedroom. 66% of them had a mobile phone (about 25% of 9 and 10 year old Canadians have a cell phone). That’s a lot of potentially unsupervised access to media.

Advertising to children is now big business, with American companies spending approximately $17 billion on this in 2009, at least doubling what they spent in 1992. The US Federal Trade Commission reported that 80% of R-rated films and 70% of adult rated video games were targeted to children under 17.

Marketers attempt to shape values, change attitudes, and direct behaviour. While in the past, stories were used for the moral training of our children, in today’s culture, stories are used by marketers to sell their products.

Marketers use media and mind manipulation to sell a moral value system that supports the behaviour that they wish to encourage, creating a “need” for their products. Traditional biblical moral values and character qualities that were once readily recognized as admirable are now out of style.

The change over the last few decades has been dramatic. When I was a girl, a Nancy Drew mystery was considered junk food reading. She solved crimes and helped people. Today’s girls read stories about vampires, who suck the life out of people.

The vampire romance series for young people, Twilight, written by Stephenie Meyer, has spawned several films and much merchandise. The estimated total franchise sales of this series is $5,736,100,000 – no small potatoes.

Mind manipulation’s aim is moral sell out. Marketers want you to lust after their products. If the manipulators can move you away from making moral choices, they’ve done their job. The aim is to have you choose not to delay gratification, put another person’s interests ahead of your own, or discipline yourself to do something that you don’t want to do. Lust was defined by Oswald Chambers as an attitude of “I must have it at once!

Moral choice making, on the other hand, results in moral character development. Children who do not make moral choices and act on them do not morally mature. This arrested development affects every aspect of their lives, including intellectual progress; but especially their relationships with others.

We can help our children develop a taste for good literature and worthwhile media by cultivating in them a love for that which is beautiful and true. We have to feed their imaginations on the good and honourable, so they will recognise the counterfeit. We need to help them to rejoice with the truth, both in our words and in our actions toward them.

Moral premises function as a foundation for all rational thought. The wise man builds his house upon the Rock of Christ. Without this foundation, thinking and conclusions will not be whole or coherent. As Ray Stedman said, “In the secular realms of knowledge there are great missing elements, great blanks, that the people of the world try to fill up in a dozen different ways, but only the church possesses the truth, the bread that can feed the hungers of life.”

We can expose the aim and tactics of marketers to our children. They can be trained to recognize faulty logic, invalid deductions, bias, lies, propaganda, and over-generalizations that do not line up with the biblical moral truth they have been taught. We can show them examples of mind manipulation and advertising strategies and give them the opportunity to practice uncovering the errors in thinking. With training and repeated practice, I have witnessed twelve year olds do this with skill.

It is important to embed critical thinking in everyday learning. When watching a program or reading an article together, stop and question it out loud. Ask them to uncover the writer’s bias, or any errors in thinking. Require them to evaluate any sources that they select as reference materials for their papers, and give them guidelines and checklists for evaluating the reliability of those sources.

We can equip our children to recognise what is morally good, and teach them to defend themselves against mind manipulation; both are needful.

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