Critical Indoctrination is Education

By Joseph Zornado

The most nefarious definition of "indoctrination" includes the idea that a student is forced to accept the educator's ideas "uncritically" and it's what we all fear when we hear the word bandied about by our students or in the press. But bear in mind that "indoctrination" understood by its most disturbing connotations refers to intense kinds of ritualized abuse of the sort performed in mind-control experiments so as to make the subject unaware of what has happened.

Oddly enough, effective ideological programming via the educational system does happen, but in our early, formative years, when we are dependent children and taught to submit to the larger cultural apparatus that identifies and categorizes our existence, while subordinating our identities to the larger, dominant cultural matrix in which we are placed. The cultural matrix is often replete with contradictory conceptions of justice, equality, definitions of happiness and so on. Because we've been trained from a young age to not see the obvious (say, when our leaders lies to us and call war "peace" and "freedom") we dismiss it and sometimes go so far as to seize the opportunity to defend the contradictory status quo. In one sense then what college educators have the opportunity to do is to open the possibility that a student might seriously question his or her past received values in order to develop a new way of seeing the world that might be in conflict with a student's received values. Students who resist this process do so for a host of reasons, but often because it can be difficult work, personally challenging, and so would rather seek the easier path of confirmation of their nascent ideas about self and world and resist all other possible ways of thinking.

But even more importantly we should bear in mind that when a student charges "indoctrination," the charge is a sure sign of at least one thing: no "indoctrination" is, in fact, taking place. Why? Because "indoctrination" occurs only when we are unaware that it is happening. Perhaps the charge of "indoctrination" might be understood as a more universal charge that other people are suffering from indoctrination, and that other people are hearing ideas (and perhaps claiming them as valuable) with which the student disagrees. From this position it seems to me then that students who complain of being "indoctrinated" are perhaps feeling angry and threatened, which is, after all, a part of the educational experience of having one's frame of reference challenged, and so are using power such as they have access to as a way of resisting.

But because indoctrination can only occur when one is unaware that it has occurred, student charges of "indoctrination" by definition, should be understood as an attack on the professor's free speech rather than as a defense of student rights.

J. Zornado

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Page last updated: Wednesday, March 15, 2006