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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Column: Education and indoctrination

*Author’s note: While writing this column, I realize that I make many statements against religion that may offend individuals who identify as strongly religious.  I do not wish to offend anyone, and I am merely using evangelical religion as an example of a concept.

What determines whether a child will speak English, Chinese or Spanish?  What determines whether that child will be Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian? Jewish or Christian or Muslim? The brain of a newborn child is a blank slate just waiting to be filled with knowledge and culture.  An infant has no language, no political party and no religion.  Parents have a huge amount of influence over what their children learn, and what cultural or social phenomena they are exposed to.  But where do we draw the line between education, and indoctrination?

To be clear, I am talking about indoctrination in the pejorative sense of the word, different from education in that individuals are expected to never question or critically examine what they are being told.  While parents have no control over the nature of their children, they do have control over the nurture. With the unyielding advancement of modern science, many previously accepted dogmas have come to be viewed as immoral indoctrinations.

Religion, the military and even Western culture demand a level of acceptance, “faith,” if you will, in the ideals that they propose.  Many religions demand belief in a deity, the government demands belief in democracy, and much of Western culture demands belief in industrialization, purchasing power and the perfect tan.  Perhaps the most controversial of these dogmas is the institution of organized religion, although the government, and even Western culture, can be justifiably labeled as indoctrinating.

Religious indoctrination has never been as pertinent an issue as it is today, with many of its founding principles clashing directly with scientific discoveries. Scientists accuse religious parents of blinding children to the truths of the universe, while religious families accuse scientists of exactly the same thing.

Some people believe that science and religion can co-exist, with one complementing the other, but the reality is that religion and science are not compatible, for the same reason that education is different from indoctrination; evangelical religion says that the accepted knowledge is not to be questioned in any manner, that the words written thousands of years ago are definitive proof of divine creation. Science, on the other hand, openly encourages anyone and everyone to critically examine accepted knowledge in the hopes of either proving it correct, or, just as importantly, finding a flaw that will force us to keep searching for the truth.

It is ignorant to say that religion has no place in society.  It is a shoulder for many to lean on, a monolith of stability.  But why is that?  Let’s go back in time. Nature must have seemed a terrifying and uncertain beast long ago.  We cannot fault the people thousands of years ago for attributing rain to a rain god, the moon to a moon god and the sun that rose every day to a sun god.

But humans are naturally curious. Every day, scientists and teachers work to further the knowledge of the new generations and improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. We now know through rational inquiry that fire is not an act of god; it is rapid oxidation. Earthquakes are not an act of god; they happen because of tectonic motion. Lightning is static electricity, things fall down because of gravity, life originated with abiogenesis.

Religious beliefs are generally based on indoctrination of the new generations. Any thought against the prevailing philosophy, any critical examination of the anthropocentric workings of the universe, are quickly and definitively stamped out and marked as signs of demonic tendencies.

Once again, I want to say that religion is not a target of these criticisms, but is merely an example of the concept of indoctrination.  Even science can be guilty of indoctrination.  When science vehemently puts down any alternate theories and insists that its way is the correct way, it is removing choice and freedom of thought in the same way that many religious institutions do.

Religion has no place in schools, and science has no place in churches, synagogues or mosques, but it is wrong to raise the new generations with just one view of how the world works.  It is the duty of the people raising the new generation to allow the un-indoctrinated to choose for themselves what they believe. Without that freedom of choice, we take away what it means to be human.

HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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