Wednesday 30 November 2011

A right view of indoctrination? From the CASE Archives*

"... no true education can escape the responsibility of communicating a view of life - that is, of 'indoctrinating.' The cult of the open mind is a way of camouflaging the poverty of an education which has no view of life to communicate. Indoctrination is not an educational crime; it is an educational necessity, in religion as in table manners. The crime is to indoctrinate in such a way as to destroy the freedom and responsibility of the pupil. It is by no means impossible - and the world's greatest teachers from Socrates onwards have proved it to be the very heart of teaching - to present a strongly held faith in such a way as to challenge the beholder to come to terms with it on his own personal responsibility. That there is no necessary opposition between doctrine and freedom is clear when personal freedom is at the very heart of the doctrine."

The above is a quote from a book written by M.V.C. Jeffreys who wrote most of his publications in the first half of the 20th century. He was a Professor of Education at the University of Birmingham. The quote is from his book 'Glaucon' and was first published in 1950. We could argue about what we mean by indoctrination, but I'm happy to accept the Oxford Dictionary definition for the purpose of the post. That is, to "teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically".

Richard Dawkins is a big critic of parents holding a faith position and teaching it to their children. He claims that it is indoctrination and that it is a form of child abuse. Is this fair? I think not! Surely it is the right of all parents to teach to or share with their children the things they believe. What parent would not try to teach their children the things that they think are important. How different is it for a parent to passionately teach their children about Climate Change, the killing of endangered species, the dangers of atomic energy or the unparalleled merits of the New York Yankees (or the Rabbitohs in Sydney) and a parent who teaches their children about their faith?

It's easy to be accused of indoctrination. In September 2009 President Obama was accused of indoctrination (here) due to his national address to the nation's school children.  Jim Greer the chair of Florida's Republican Party stated, "I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology." In fact, there are accusations of this sort against the President all over the web. Personally, I think the claims are grossly unfair, but how do we make such judgements? How and why did Jim Greer reach his conclusion that it was indoctrination?

Is it just possible that some of the people who object to parents teaching their children about faith, labelling it as indoctrination, might 'indoctrinate' their own children, or even find it acceptable when others 'indoctrinate' children with ideas with which they agree? I read a blog recently in which the writer told how her 3 year old had chanted to her at dinner that night “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!”. She suggested that the learning of this chant to encourage recycling is "good indoctrination".  Who decides when indoctrination of children is good, or bad? Given that indoctrination simply means to instruct or teach someone a "doctrine" - which in turn means a body of knowledge, sets of principles, a collection of teachings - then it is nonsense to assume that it is always wrong.

Photo of Mother & Child I took at Clare Hall Cambridge
M.V.C. Jeffreys' view was that indoctrination rather than being wrong or immoral is appropriate and unavoidable. What he saw as wrong was indoctrination that can "destroy the freedom and responsibility of the pupil". In defence of Christians who are accused of indoctrination regularly, it is relevant to remind people that the very basis of Christian faith is freedom. Christianity isn't about simple adherance to a set of rules or even moral principles; although the Bible does suggest ways that we should live. Those who present the Christian faith in this way are teaching a false gospel. While we can teach a child about faith in Christ, we cannot make them believe. It is wrong for a parent or teacher to seek to coerce children into believing that which they believe themselves. It is also a quest that is doomed to failure. As Joshua reminded the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, ultimately all of us must choose who we will serve. Joshua challenged the Israelites to consider if they were going to serve the gods of the Amorites or the God of their ancestors, Yahweh (Joshua 24:14-15). Likewise, Jesus called his disciples to choose to follow and to believe in him. And as Jesus taught the stakes are high:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Why shouldn't parents teach their children the doctrines that will allow them to make a choice as to the reality of God as taught in the Bible? Especially when they believe that there are eternal consequences.

The Bible teaches that the Christian faith is not about being enslaved to the views of others, whether as a child or as an adult, it is about being set free to live as God had intended.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Romans 8:1-4)
* This is a revised version of a post I wrote in May 2010.


Mike W said...

Reminds me of that Chesterton quote
"Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid"

Thanks for defending solid

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Mike, I appreciate your comment. It's a great quote from Chesterton.