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Indoctrination: Am I Guilty?

Updated on January 31, 2011

A Song About Secular Indoctrination

Do Religious Liberals Indoctrinate their Kids?

When perusing posts on group pages or from friends on Facebook, I often see concerns expressed about the dangers of indoctrination. And what I find particularly fascinating is that people from every worldview imaginable express these same concerns. Fundamentalists and atheists complain about the “brainwashing” efforts of the other, as do Democrats and Republicans, social conservatives and secular liberals, and Lakers and Celtics fans. Apparently, pushing a set of ideas is only indoctrination when you disagree with the doctrines that are being pushed.

As both a teacher and a parent, I recognize that I am in a prime position to use both of these roles to shape young minds. I am fairly confident, however, that I am not doing a whole lot of indoctrinating as a teacher. Sure, I express opinions in the classroom. These opinions, however, like the opinions expressed in my hubs, don’t easily fit into any of the standard ideological categories. When criticizing political policies or leaders, I try to “spread the love” by questioning ideas and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum. And if religion comes up in class, I try to limit (the occasional) criticism to the practice of religion rather than to the belief systems themselves. As a college teacher, my influence on students is somewhat limited anyway. Their basic worldviews are formed long before I ever see them. It is at the lower grade levels that teachers have the greatest opportunity for shaping young minds. 

As a parent, however, it is a different story. Like all parents who take any interest in their children, I recognize the tremendous influence that I have, through both my words and my actions, on the fundamental beliefs and values of my kids. No one, in fact, is likely to have as much influence on them as my wife and I. It really is an awesome responsibility, and I would be kidding myself if I said that they should have absolute freedom to explore all of the world’s “equally valid” beliefs and behaviors. The truth is that I want them to internalize those core beliefs and values that are most important to me. I want them to be curious, humble, open-minded (to a degree), empathetic, ethical human beings. So by “pushing” these ideas on my kids, am I guilty of indoctrination?

As share in a previous hub, my family attends a Unitarian Universalist Church. Originally, our primary motive for visiting was to find a place where our kids could be exposed to spirituality. One of the core principles of this church is openness to different theological doctrines. Its fundamental creed is that there is no fundamental creed. Instead of focusing on promoting theological theories that cannot be verified, we emphasize the importance of ethical behavior and service to humanity. If a religious belief system leads a person to behave in a positive fashion, then we view it as a positive belief system for that individual. For other individuals, different theologies might work equally well. But how far am I or other members of my church willing to take this tolerance? If one of my daughters came home one day as some sort of a religious fundamentalist, would I be OK with that? On some level, the answer is no. I would prefer that she think as I do. I have adopted my beliefs, after all, because I think that they are closest to the truth. So even though I attend a church with liberal doctrines, I am susceptible to pushing my ideas as hard as any fundamentalist.

There will probably come a time some day when my kids develop political, ethical, or theological ideas different from my own. If I want my kids to grow up as mature adults capable of successfully making their way in the world, I need to allow them the freedom to evaluate ideas for themselves. The best thing that I can do is to model the kinds of behavior and thought processes that will help them explore ideas in both a rational and a humble fashion. I want them to be good thinkers, not sponges who have effectively absorbed my particular opinions. And in the end, there are many things that would be far worse than having my kids come home as fundamentalists. If the beliefs that they adopt help them to be more ethical, compassionate, happy, humble human beings, then those beliefs are fine with me. We may get into some arguments, but that would not be the end of the world. There was a period in my life, after all, when I was an evangelical Christian trying to help my parents “see the light.” Ah, those were the days. Occasionally, I miss those times when I knew everything.


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    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 6 years ago

      Sorry. I'm swamped with job applications at the moment, so I shouldn't even be writing my own hubs. In fact, I'm supposed to be working on a cover letter right now.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

      I am glad you like the quote, one of my favorites. I do know how to spell "reminds."

      Btw, it has been quite some time since you read any of my hubs. (hint, hint)

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 6 years ago

      That Twain quote is great.

      I guess the most important thing is to be aware of the danger. So long as the heart is in the right place, the kids will probably turn out OK.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      The most important thing you can do for your children is to inculcate them with good practices of behaviour towards others, and whether you do that through religious observance, or not, doesnt really matter that much.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

      I enjoyed this, and I loved the ending. It remins me of a quotation often attributed to Mark Twain:

      "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

    • junkseller profile image

      junkseller 6 years ago from Michigan

      That's a tough one isn't it? I think about it a lot, but in my case it's more in the context of having discussions with people. I am always trying to think how I can try and frame the common space in which we are debating, so that we can both get to the best place to be. It isn't easy and I'm not really sure how well I do at it. I guess fundamentally, the question I always try and ask is whether or not I am helping to put someone in a room with lots of doors or in a room with no doors or windows at all. Either way, I guess you have to do one or the other so I suppose we are all guilty (or all innocent).