Education Vs Indoctrination
This is a fairly lengthy article intended to provoke thought and perhaps discussion. Feedback is always welcomed. You can email your comments to email@example.com
Exploration: Education vs Indoctrination vs Critical Thinking
by Catherine Whelan Costen
In the last few months a very powerful and thought provoking message has been repeated over and over on a website I frequent. The message is, “it is ignorance of the law when we do not know our own rights’. The poster is examining the law to seek out the areas which he believes every person should know. His pursuit is admirable as he seeks to learn what he was denied throughout his educational process. Albert Einstein must have discovered the same, as he is quoted thus, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
Knowing the law seems to be a critical part of our modern lives. We live by what seems to be a never ending set of rules/laws. Yet most citizens do not know the law. They rely heavily on lawyers to interpret the law. Then a judge interprets it for everyone. So knowing the law is not the same as interpreting the law. Living by an increasingly more complicated set of rules becomes part of our modern day survival skills. We could probably dedicate our lives to understanding the rules we are meant to live by. It is designed in a way that we are primarily dependent on someone else to help us with the rules. Most of us spend our youth in a classroom learning the rules of life, but not the laws we are governed by. We are told that getting an education is critical to our success as an adult. Success is defined for us. We are taught what to think. Not, how to think. Just like our relationship to the law, we are always just a bit short of having all the tools to function.
When you teach someone to bake, you teach them how to follow a recipe and why. Then you teach them the technique to achieve a certain result. Once they have these basic understandings of ingredients and tools they can experiment and create something new and different. This is what we want from individuals. We want new and different. If experimenting is not allowed, then we have a continual repeated success of the same. Robots can be programed to create the same. Humans should be encouraged to be unique.
I do not share the same concept of success or education as many people do. Considering the value placed on education in our modern day society, why are so many of us lacking critical thinking skills? Why do we fall victim to the ‘spin’ instead? We are continually told that education is underfunded and a necessary part of the modern age. The more I contemplate this situation, I am drawn to the examples of my parent’s generation. Many of them did not complete High School never mind post-secondary education. Many of them are considered very successful people. Not only are they financially secure, but they are emotionally and physically healthy. They are the most politically active group in our society. They are well read, informed and ‘educated’. They seldom require someone else to interpret their world for them. They know a cover up when they see it. They know truth from fiction. They don’t live on borrowed money. They don’t buy into the commercial hype. Of course there are exceptions to these generalities, but I think it is worth exploring. Perhaps we need to consider whether education is what is required in today’s modern world and whether it is serving society or whether we need something else?
Comparing the generation before me to the ones that have followed is worth careful examination. Some might even say that the fact that many of the former left the halls of formal education, before they could be restrained, was to their benefit. This is in no way meant to discredit the many fantastic teachers working to educate our children. The teachers only teach what they have been taught, further they teach according to a program which they do not set and very few have input into the programs chosen. They are teaching for an expected result. Their students must meet standards set by the government of the day. We need workers for the industries, not thinkers defining industry. It seems that our position in society as thinkers or workers has been decided. Thinkers who do not serve the system, are usually outcasts, activists and generally undesirable. We have an education system. Do we need a ‘life skills system’ instead, in conjunction or does it matter? If we want something different, better than what we have today, we cannot expect the system that created today’s problems to fix them.
This brings me to the purpose of education. How is it different from indoctrination? It also forces me to consider, which one we now employ and why?
If we look at the animal world, we see the parents, most often the mothers teaching their young very basic survival skills. They are taught how to hunt, gather food, find or make shelter, where to defecate, how to mark their territory and set boundaries. They don’t need instruction on reproduction. They follow their drives ensuring their specie’s survival. Human children are born with a total dependence on their parents. They must be educated on basic survival skills as well. The primary difference between animals and humans is that humans think in a more expanded manner. We contemplate the present, the past and the future. We consider our decisions and their impact on our world (many of us do, some do not). This requires a teaching beyond the basics of animal survival. It requires freedom to explore.
Around the age of 3 years, a child will begin to ask questions rather than accept whatever adults say. The ‘why’ stage is often annoying for parents and caregivers, primarily because every answer given provokes another question. We usually hope this stage will end quickly. But why?
When a child reaches the age society has deemed appropriate for beginning formal education, they will be introduced to the ‘rules’. One of the rules is to stop asking questions. Sit still, be quiet and learn. If the curious child refuses to stop asking questions, which will be considered disruptive to the process, they may be asked to leave the room. After a few months of this behaviour the child will probably be labeled rebellious. Perhaps even medicated. For the next twelve or thirteen years they will be inundated with rules for every situation. Most will conform to the rules in order to avoid ridicule, punishment and otherwise negative labeling. Oh I know it is difficult to teach to an overcrowded classroom, but again that speaks to the system, the objective and not the child. ( My two years spent as a preschool teacher taught me the importance of keeping children excited about learning.)
The dictionary definition of ‘indoctrination’ is ‘teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically : broadcasting was a vehicle for indoctrinating the masses.’
Educate is defined this way, ‘give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone, esp. a child), typically at a school or university’. Which brings us to the word instruction again as defined in the dictionary:
1 (often instructions) a direction or order : he issued instructions to the sheriff | he was acting on my instructions.
• ( instructions) Law directions to a lawyer or to a jury.
• Computing a code or sequence in a computer program that defines an operation and puts it into effect.
2 ( instructions) detailed information telling how something should be done, operated, or assembled : always study the instructions supplied.
3 teaching; education : the school offers personalized instruction in a variety of skills.
I fail to see any expectation of the student examining or exploring and using their mind to determine truth from fiction in any of the above definitions.
As a parent I learned that too many rules with little room for decision making was counterproductive. If you give a child/teenager or adult a set of rules and tell them not to break the rules, chances are they will try. But they will inevitably find some situation which is not covered in the rules. What do they do? What is the objective of the rules? If it is simply a parents wish to control another body, then it will have the expected results. Eventually another body seeks to be their own person so they will have to throw out the rules and make their own. My preference is to teach a child to think, assess situations and learn about consequences and outcomes from decisions. If this kind of thinking is encouraged at the three year old stage, it will continue and not become a situation where you failed to provide enough rules and the child is in deep trouble as a teenager. Of course the parent has to be willing to allow the young child to experience the outcomes of their decisions, be they positive or negative.
Formal education in our current system seems to be about following the rules. Learning to accept the norm, rather than using our own minds to explore and make our own opinions. Rather than teaching children what to think, according to what we already know, wouldn’t it serve society better to teach children how to think and use their own initiative and natural curiosity? We do not know what they might discover, or invent or become, because we are not them. Each person is created in a unique fashion, no two human beings are the same. So why do we want everyone to know the same material and then be tested on how well they know it?
Many young people today graduate from High School without knowing how to read and comprehend information or write their own thoughts in a coherent manner. Do we not want the next generation to be capable of real communication? The internet generation has been taught to express themselves in letters, one letter represents a common word. The most common are, wtf and lmao or expanded versions of the same. If I was a visitor from another planet I might wonder if earth’s population is so in shock that all they can do is say, wtf (what the f*ck) and then lmao (laugh my ass off) in response to the shock? On the other hand they may be developing a code to prevent the system from understanding their new inventions? I can hope.
It really isn’t funny, although humour helps ease the pain.
The most underrated tool for learning is experiencing failure. So many parents do not want their children to fail. They don’t want to fail themselves and they certainly don’t want anyone to know about it if they do. Many in today’s system will provide all children with a winning ribbon or star so that they don’t feel left out, even if they didn’t earn it. There is too much emphasis on winning and losing. Winning is success and losing is failure. Success is considered the opposite of failure. Yet success does not always bring positive results. But failure leads to discoveries about ourselves, other people and our environment. It is the reason the saying, ‘it is better to have tried and failed, than to have never tried at all’ is so popular. It is so true!
Yet we are often afraid to allow someone we love to experience life for themselves. One of the most precious gifts you can give your children is to allow them to fail and to disclose your own failures to them. Showing them you are human and talking about what you learned from the experience will provide them the security they need to expand their horizons. Failure is relative. Many lab experiments considered failures, have led to great discoveries by default. The world has much to teach us.
I think this subject deserves great contemplation and consideration of what we want our citizens to know. Do we believe that all that is known today, is all they need to know? Or do we want them to explore, discover and create a world that they can share with us?
Wouldn’t it be to our advantage to show people how we do something and then ask them to do it, improve it, and make it their own? We have no way of knowing all of the incredible contributions the next generation will bring to this planet. If we force them into the mould of our last thought they will stagnate. If we encourage them to think beyond our comprehension, they will thrive and so will we.
Again I am left with more questions than answers. I do however feel strongly that education should be used to explain and instruct on how to use a tool, or how to read and write etc. The tools should be taught. Rules should be minimal. The mind should not be harnessed, rather it should be challenged, encouraged and expanded. Both success and failure should be encouraged from the point of view of, ‘what did we gain from the experience?’. Outcomes from decisions should be examined and not used for ridicule. The poster who provoked my thought and who seeks to know the law, will not fail, because he is learning both the law and himself in the process.
It is my belief that a society where people understand that their actions have consequences beyond a set of rules would help to create more responsible citizens. Environmental disasters would be avoided because those responsible for those decisions would know, that they are held accountable by an informed, thinking citizenry. An excuse that the disaster, didn’t break the law or wasn’t in the rule book would be unacceptable and not tolerated.
I believe it is time for each of us to stand away from our usual labels or associations, which do our thinking for us and see if we can stand on our own. When we do, we usually find that what we think, is not exactly what the group thinks. It is very empowering. Critical thinkers may endorse others who think the same, but they do not give up their thinking in favour of group think. Critical thinkers do not accept spin. Critical thinkers look for solutions to concerns instead of someone to blame. Critical thinkers do not feel helpless, instead they look into their toolbox and start fixing. The system we have now is creating a world of robotic thinking, group think, pigeon holes and labels to define and control us. I think we should give the next generation the tools to build and fix.
The best teaching is always by example. If we want others to think for themselves, we need to begin the process ourselves. Let them hear us questioning, challenging, writing letters and communicating. Let them hear about our ideas, our debates, our successes and our failures. Let them see our thinking process as we discount advertising that tells us something is good, or we need it or we will be better looking, thinner, fatter or smarter after we buy it; when it is not. Let them hear us speak loudly for the things we want like clean water, air and soil. Let them know when we don’t approve of our politicians’ decisions and explain why. Show them what pursuing peace looks like in comparison to oppression and war. Encourage them to go beyond our path to new and better ways of living. Celebrate the learning in the failures and the wonder in the successes! Or get used to robots!
“Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.” Mahatma Gandhi
Filed under: Social/Political/Human Issues
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