Indoctrination Essay

Cyril Connoly once said, ‘While thoughts exist, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.’ Truly, thoughts are our keys to open the gates of freedom and get away from man’s world of madness and hopelessness. However, if these thoughts are suppressed, then men will lose all sense of individuality and living will become pointless. Dystopian literature, a fictional writing that explores ‘social and political structures in a dark, nightmare world’ or ‘the negative utopia’, contains this repression of thoughts (Dystopian literature & Fromm 316). Dystopian literature is written to startle and awaken the reader to the fact that our world is not perfect, but it is dangerous and deceitful where men can be dehumanized into machines. In negative Utopia, man is powerless and hopeless because ‘oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through ‘ totalitarian control’ (Dystopias & Fromm 316). An example of a Dystopian Literature is George Orwell’s 1984, in which Orwell envisions an abusive encroachment of government using ‘corporate, bureaucratic, and technological control’ (Dystopias). Orwell presents an alarming perspective on modern society which stems from Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union; in this dystopian novel, Orwell advocates that his audience must be aware that a government can unjustifiably indoctrinate our children and transform them into mindless drones without us knowing.
The egregious circumstances and brainwashing that the children in Nazi Germany and Soviet Union experienced during World War II influenced 1984’s indoctrination of children. Adolf Hitler, former leader of Nazi Germany, used education to imprint the Party’s ideology into children’s unmarked mind. Nazi school faculty and staff ‘introduced new textbooks that taught students love for Hitler, obedience to state authority, militarism, [‘] and anti-Semitism’ (Indoctrinating Youth). While publishing these new textbooks, Nazis raided ‘libraries and bookstores across Germany,’ and they burned ‘more than 25,000 [other] books from [anti-tyranny] authors, [such as Helen Keller, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Albert Einstein,] into huge bonfires’ (Nazi Propaganda and Censorship). This clearly shows that the government repressed students’ ideas to keep them unconscious and prevent them from rebelling against the authority. To have more control on children, teachers ‘only [allowed students] to hear [and learn] one view of Hitler ‘ the positive view’ (How Hitler controlled the children). In fact, in the ‘Children, What Do You Know of the Fuhrer’? school poster, ‘the usually much more sternly portrayed dictator is depicted as an approachable figure ‘ who is friendly towards children’ (MiE-Editor). This portrays that Hitler tried to show the traditional German fatherhood in politics because he understood that his power depends on persuading these children into thinking that he actually loves and cares for them. To drown the children deeper into government’s doctrine, Hitler used children’s boredom and sadness. Therefore, he built Hitler Youth Organization to fulfill the children’s happiness by keeping them busy and active (How Hitler controlled the children). In this organization, the government forced children to wear uniforms (How Hitler controlled the children). This policy strengthened the idea that the youth has to believe in whatever Hitler tells them to believe, which prepared them to become martyr, loyal young soldiers of the Nazi of regime (How Hitler controlled the children). Once children learn about Hitler’s love for them, teaching students to distrust others and trust Hitler alone comes easily. Nazi teachers educated the children to become spies, and report anyone, even their parents, who is ‘suspected [on] committing the thought crime of disagreeing with any of Hitler’s personal opinions or ideas’ (How Hitler Controlled the Children). One of the Hitler’s ideas is the abhorrence of Jews. He used to include the Jewish problem in the Nazi Curriculum, and hired Nazi educators to teach hatred towards Jews for they killed Jesus Christ (Indoctrinating Youth). Nazi professors asked Jewish students to leave the classroom during the lessons on racial teaching, and stay outside for an hour, so that only the German students could learn about denigrating Jews for Hitler considered them as a ‘parasitic bastard race’ (Indoctrination and discrimination). German students did not only learn to become anti-Semitic in their racial subject, but also in mathematics. Math teachers use math problems such as ‘The Jews are aliens in Germany ‘ in 1933 there were 66,060,000 inhabitants in the German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the percent of aliens’? (Mills). The purpose of these subjects is to feed students the idea that the German population needs to multiply while the Jews need to be executed. Therefore, Hitler’s use of education successfully brainwashes the youth with the government’s principles of worshipping Hitler, service and loyalty to the country, and repugnance towards Jews.
Another inspiration of Orwell is Joseph Stalin, former leader of the Soviet Union, who utilized schools to inculcate children with the Government’s doctrine. The state and Stalin ordered to write and introduce new textbooks that teach children to worship Stalin, obey the government and defend the country (Life in USSR under Stalin). Stalin and the government figure that propagandizing students with school posters like ‘Honor and Glory to a Soviet Teach’ to admire and consider their teachers as ‘trustworthy figures’ would make the absorption of Stalin’s dogma faster and easier (Ted-Editor). Education curriculum was given by the government; they change and strictly censor books, ‘especially History’ (Life in USSR under Stalin). They tell lies to students in Stalin’s new book, ‘a short history of USSR,’ and ‘[overplays] Stalin’s part in the 1917 Revolution and his relationship with Lenin’ (Life in USSR under Stalin). Stalin became the ‘[center] to everything’ and was pictured as a hero and compassionate leader to motivate students to become like him and fulfill Rule One of The 20 Rules of Student Behaviors: ‘It is the duty of each school child to acquire knowledge persistently so as to become an educated and cultured citizen and to be of the greatest possible service to his country’ (Ted-Editor). To be prepared in the future, children are ‘expected to join youth organizations, such as the Octobrists for 8 to 10 years old and the Pioneers for the 10 to 16 years old,’ to become ‘little Stalins’ (Life in USSR under Stalin). Stalin’s ‘personality cult’ fascinates every child he met ‘with awe’ (Ted-Editor). For students to worship Stalin alone, Stalin and the League of the Militant Godless, ‘an officially sponsored group of atheist, [‘replaced] religious teachings with the ideals of communism [and] spread propaganda attacking religion’ (Totalitarianism). They destroyed Christian churches and synagogues, and killed the religious leaders or send them to labor camps (Totalitarianism). This then lead to love and respect to Hitler; students believe without questions that Stalin was a ‘great leader’ (How did Stalin Control?). Therefore, Stalin’s use of education effectively indoctrinates children with the authority’s ideology of glorifying Stalin and devotion to the country.
Orwell’s 1984 proves that the authority has a monstrous power to psychologically manipulate our children to use them for government’s own selfish reasons. Julia is one of the main characters in 1984 that grew up in the totalitarian regime of Big Brother. She joins all the organizations and events of the Party; in fact, ‘she had been a troop leader in the spies and a branch secretary in the Youth League before joining the Junior Anti-sex League’ (Orwell 108). However, despite of her active participation she secretly loathes the Party, ‘and said so in the crudest words, but she made no general criticism of it’ (Orwell 109). This conveys that the Party feeds Julia its doctrine through Youth organizations and events, but she does not fully absorb it. Unlike Winston, Julia just has no interest in revolting against the Party, but just likes breaking the Party’s law by having pleasurable sex with men in the Party (Orwell 71). She believes that the Party is undefeatable, and ‘any kind of organized revolt against [it]’struck her as stupid’ (Orwell 109). This hopelessness makes her think that ‘the clever thing was to break the rules and stay alive at the same time’ (Orwell 109). Julia’s mentality expresses the idea that the authority can crush the true rebellions spirit of men.
Compare to Julia, Parson’s children are fully indoctrinated with the government’s ideology. The Party rewrites the school textbooks to claim that their current economy is way better than before (Orwell 41-42). This portrays that the Party uses education to imprint the idea that Big Brother is their savior because he saved them from the corrupt capitalist. The Party forces children to participate in organizations like the ‘spies’ where children dress in the blue shorts, gray shirts and red neckerchiefs’ and ‘systematically turned into ungovernable little savages’ (Orwell 22 &24). In this organization, the children play ‘with toy automatic pistols’ to prepare them on becoming future soldiers of Oceania (Orwell 22). This kind of indoctrination weakens the empathy of children as their hearts are being trained to become stones. In fact, the Parson’s children beg their mother to ‘see the hanging’ (Orwell 23). To strengthen the brainwashing, this builds the children’s trust and love for Big Brother alone; therefore, making children do everything the Party says becomes possible such as spying and reporting their parents if suspected with thought-crime (Orwell 135). This deteriorates the love between families because all of children’s affection and faithfulness are towards Big Brother. Truly, the power of the government to indoctrinate children can destroy men’s sense of individuality without our awareness.
Nazi and Soviet Union indoctrination of children seems to be a distant nightmare, but this terrifying dream is still happening today in the most politically isolated organizations in the world: North Koreas government and Islamic state to implant the Party’s dogma into innocent children. After using Marxist Leninism as the North Korean education guiding principle, ‘Chosun Nodong Dang the center committee of North Korea’s Labor Party, adopted ‘The thesis on Socialist Education,’ which is now the foundation and basis ideology of the country’s education’ (North Korea). The thesis states that the purpose of education is ‘to transform the next generation to be ‘revolutionaries’ who fight for the benefits of the Communist Society and its people and to be Communists intellectually and morally and with physical strength’ (North Korea). The government ‘enforce[s] and strengthen[s]’ this idea by making the children feel that they are part of improving a thriving nation’ (O’Brien). To maintain this feeling, children are expected to join youth organizations which are considered as the ‘happiest day of childhood’ because ‘children’ receive’ gifts from their families’ every celebration or event (O’Brien). This portrays that Kim Jong-un, like Hitler, uses youth’s loneliness to easily brainwash children through making them ‘happy’ and active in organizations. The government forces them to join Youth organizations like ‘Young Pioneer Corps at age 9 and move on to the Kim II Sung Socialist Youth League between the ages of 14 and 16,’ in which they are characterized as ‘future masters of a most powerful country’ (Tomlinson). In the organizations, teachers educate the children ‘about the accomplishments of the communist republic’s founder Kim II Sung’ and leader Kim Jong-un in ‘the revolutionary history of the great leader and the revolutionary history of the Dear Leader’ (Tomlinson & Lankov). Once they absorb the ‘good deeds’ of the Kim dynasty, loyalty, respect and love for the leader and the country come easily. Children ‘pledges allegiance to ‘ [their father], Kim Jong-un, and even shed tears seeing him (Tomlinson). These organizations also ‘indoctrinate young people through fun [and] music’ because they know that music ‘ties the [children] together and submerges the individual’ (O’Brien). Examples of these songs are ‘We are successors of the Revolution, March of Korean Youth, ‘ Let’s Defend the party central Committee with our Lives, What is Songun?, and We grow as we Learn,’ which directly advocate love for the Kim dynasty, patriotism, and collectivism (O’Brien). Because of trust in government, They are then easily indoctrinated with lies like the ‘anti-western rhetoric,’ in which ‘the United States is called out specifically as being both the instigator of the Korean war and the reason why the country is now split in Two’ (Spohn). Students believe everything the government tells them. They make this life because Kim Jong-un and the government figure that ‘fear of a common enemy typically unites people because [the only way] of survival is to fight together’ (O’Brien). Therefore, these children are being taught to kill American soldiers in school. They have ‘dummies of American soldiers [which] the kids pretend to [kill using]’ Toy pistols, tanks, and rifles [that] are set up on shelves in classroom’ (Liss). Kim Jong-un’s education system successfully brainwashes children with government’s principles leading to more control over the present and the future.
A ruthless performing an even more extreme indoctrination of children is the Islamic State. Indoctrination begins once ISIS abducts and recruits children by ‘luring [them] with ‘ weapons and telling them that ISIS teach about ‘the Quran and foundations of Islam’ (Sillers). While these children are being indoctrinated, ‘ISIS also provides them with a number of humanitarian services [like] caring for sick or orphaned children’ (Geller). Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISIS, organizes ‘teach-ins, open[s] schools and training camps’ to indoctrinate ‘children as young as four-years-old’ who are then called as ‘lion cubs’ (Dettmer & Geller). ISIS closes schools to change the educational curriculum with ‘the teaching of Islamic dogmas’ (Savir). They remove ‘mathematics, philosophy, ‘ chemistry, ‘ history, [and] geography’ because the subjects are considered as ‘blasphemous’ (Savir & Al Fares). During school shutdown, teachers are forced to ‘undergo’proper indoctrination and training,’ or else they will not be able to teach (Savir). Once the schools reopen, ISIS subjects children ‘to five months of watching videos of beheadings and attacks, as well as [giving] daily lectures on’extreme version of Jihad’ (Kids’ crusade). In addition to schools, ISIS also has camps where children ‘stay for 25 days’ to master fighting with weapons and become cruel, fearless soldiers of ISIS (Aal-Bahri). ISIS trains students to become tough and deal with exhausting physical activities. In these camps, ISIS forces children to take part in several public executions, in which children seat ‘only feet away from the bloody event’ (Geller). During these events, ‘children hold ISIS banners,’ carry rifles, [read] out the condemned man’s sentence, [and] make some’ announcements’ (Geller). ‘[Acting out] ISIS activity, such as beheading of enemies’ is also one of children’s entertainments in camps. (Geller). ISIS fighters give children dolls ‘dressed in an orange jumpsuit’ to practice decapitation of non-ISIS enemies (Geller). To exacerbate this, ISIS teaches toddlers to kick and step on ‘an unbeliever’s head’ (Geller). In fact an ISIS fighter posts a picture of the toddler on ISIS official twitter account with a caption, ‘Woe to you, o unbelievers and apostates from such a generation that got soaked with the love of cutting off the heads and shipping the necks’ ( TN, October 31, 2014). Publicizing their way of indoctrinating children is a bandwagon technique of the group to convince other children to join ISIS by proudly showing that young ISIS soldiers are really participating in fights with real weapons. These deeds ‘heavily ‘ [depict ISIS] as compassionate and humane’ to build the trust of the children and make brainwashing easier (Geller). By forming this harsh Jihadi environment, ISIS molds magnificent beasts that will live their life in violence.
Fromm says, ‘[Orwell’s] warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it’ (Fromm 313). Orwell wants us to wake up and be conscious of the government’s power to indoctrinate our children and turn them into brainless, heartless machines to control our future. The brainwashing of children in the past seems far-fetched, but it is still happening today in North Korea and Iraq. If we, citizens of democratic countries, do not open our eyes and hearts into reality, our future will be destroyed. Remember, our children are our future.

Works Cited

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An earlier version of this article appears in educational Horizons 86,1 Fall 2007

Is Education Merely Indoctrination?
by Gary K. Clabaugh

edited 8/17/11

Self-respecting educators would object if they were accused of engaging in indoctrination. But can they be sure they are not? How is the education they practice different? Can they even be certain there is a difference?

We can get clearer on this if we think about a real-world example. Consider the abstinence-only approach to sex education being pushed by the Bush administration. In this one-size-fits-all method, there is no comprehensive weighing of options. The only course of action educators are permitted to prescribe to kids with boiling adolescent hormones is self-denial—learning to forgo. Indeed, in some public school abstinence programs kids are pressured by their classmates to sign a pledge that they will remain virgin until marriage.

How is this relevant to any possible difference between education and indoctrination? Because the example calls some key principles to the fore.

The Centrality of Doctrine

Let's begin with this. Clearly indoctrination propagates a particular point of view—a doctrine. That's why one dictionary definition describes indoctrination as "the process of teaching a partisan or sectarian point of view."1Another dictionary explains it more pointedly as "teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically."2

The abstinence-only approach to sex "education" does in fact push a particular point of view. Is there any other way? Sure there is. In deciding what to do about their emerging sexuality, students could, for example, be encouraged to consider abstinence as well as its opposite—what we might call the "practice makes perfect" approach. After all, one possible benefit of engaging in premarital intercourse is that it affords individuals the opportunity to learn though experience, thus minimizing the sometimes-damaging fumbling that troubles rank beginners. But this approach, or any other of the numerous less-extreme approaches, is out of bounds so far as the abstinence-only approach is concerned. Instead, there is a party line, a doctrine if you will, that is held to be final truth. Abstinence is the only reasonable option prior to marriage, and that's that.

At first glance this approach might seem objectionable—too much like brainwashing. But how is it different from the way socialization is generally accomplished in school—the way kids are taught society's mores? Educators seldom lead a consideration of all options when they're dealing with bullying, or race relations, or "bad" manners, and so forth. Typically, when youngsters violate one social rule or another, they are simply told that their behavior is improper, rude, inconsiderate, or what have you, and that "we" don't do that. Typically there is no discussion of different options or points of view. Is socialization of this type indoctrination? Yes it is, if indoctrination is defined in the ways with which we began this essay. So it follows that a good deal of what educators do is indoctrination, particularly when it comes to teaching "proper'' behavior, and even more particularly when it comes to teaching that to younger children.

Developmental Considerations

No doubt a student's stage of development plays a key role in all of this. It seems odd to respect the student's sense of reason regarding moral issues, for instance, if he or she hasn't reached what Piaget calls the formal operational stage of reasoning. If particular children are developmentally incapable of considering a number of possibilities for a given condition, if they do not have the ability to think abstractly, if they can't recognize a problem, how much sense does it make to respect their sense of reason?

On the other hand, truly capable instruction sets up situations where children in the immediately preceding concrete operational stage (seven to eleven years) can practice developing their reason by ordering objects, combining them in classes, and so forth. In other words, far from disrespecting the child's sense of reason, the teacher fosters it and helps it grow. Shall we call that indoctrination or education?

Of course, it is true that, say, a first-grade teacher would be unwise to have extended discussions with six-year-olds concerning why they should behave in a certain way. But that's because it is developmentally inappropriate and not necessarily because the teacher wants to stifle their future personal authority or sense of reason. It's because of their immaturity.

The Student's Sense of Reason

What about the student whose sense of reason has reached the formal operational stage? Indoctrination devalues that. Typically it amounts to a "because I said so" kind of thing. Now, imagine a twelve-year-old in a Bible-believing church's Sunday school class. She has just been told that unsaved people go to hell, so she asks what happens to people living in remote regions who never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus. The teacher says that they go to hell too. The girl observes that this doesn't seem fair. The teacher tells her that she must never question the word of God—end of discussion.

It would be a quite different sort of transaction had the teacher permitted further discussion. And it would have been particularly different had the teacher eventually concluded that the girl's reasoning had merit and that such an arrangement might, in fact, be unfair.

A Matter of Authority

Note that in the situation above, the teacher recognizes only one source authority—the Bible. In addition, only the teacher's interpretation of that authority is permitted. Are those hallmarks of indoctrination?

Take notice that only one source authority is recognized as valid in that Sunday school. All competing source authorities are dismissed out of hand. Had the girl brought up a broadly recognized source authority other than the Bible, say the teachings of Buddha, she would risk being labeled a potential apostate or heretic. Shall we call this education or indoctrination?

It is also important to observe how interpretive authority is functioning in our imaginary situation. Only one interpretation of the Bible is permitted, that of the teacher. Now, suppose the girl accepts the Bible as a source authority but comes up with a different interpretation of what happens to people who, because of their isolation, never even heard of Jesus. She reasons that since Jesus emphasizes forgiveness and tending to your own sins, some other fate must await these people. In this class her interpretation does not matter. Indeed, in this class her sense of reason doesn't matter. She is to lay that aside as a dangerous inconvenience. Is this a hallmark of indoctrination?

Competing Views

One thing is clear about our Sunday school teacher. His instruction does not include any consideration of competing points of view. For him, there is one source authority, one proper interpretation, and one correct point of view. And when that is said, it's all said. Shall we call this education?

But maybe the example leads us astray. Let's consider a science class instead. Perhaps it fits all the criteria of our Bible-believing Sunday school class. Consider the matter of source authority, for instance. Are youngsters familiarized with the views of competing source authorities when scientific consensus is lacking? Does the teacher consider different interpretations other than her own? And does the student's sense of reason merit recognition, or is "because I said so" sufficient?

The fact is that a properly taught science class is the antithesis of our hypothetical Sunday school class. When scientific consensus is lacking, it is imperative that students be made aware of competing points of view. And to emulate the values in doing science, students are properly encouraged to develop different interpretations, because that sort of reasoning is central to science. Now, it certainly is true that science is often not taught that way. I recall my own high school chemistry class. It was taught more like a catechism than anything else. Periodic tables had to be memorized, equations had to balance, recipe-type "experiments" had to be carried out in a manner roughly equivalent to attending mass: but there was no science involved. Is that education or, more properly, indoctrination?

What do you think of these criteria? It's indoctrination if the instruction:

Devalues the student's sense of reason

Stifles the student's personal authority

Acknowledges only one source authority

Permits only one interpretation of that source authority

Treats reasoned disagreement as heresy, treason, insubordination,

Presents truth as final

Instruction isn't indoctrination if it:

Respects (and seeks to develop) the student's sense of reason

Fosters development of the student's personal authority

Recognizes (and presents for consideration) multiple authorities

Welcomes reasoned disagreement

Presents truth as tentative

So is indoctrination altogether different from education? That's a complicated question that can't be fully answered in this limited space. But in summary, it can be said that to the extent that education is involved in cultivating wisdom, indoctrination is utterly incompatible.



2. Wordnet Search 3.0, indoctrination.

See, also, EG Rozycki. Moral Education: Indoctrination vs. Cognitive Development? .


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