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Curriculum Teaching

Indoctrination

“Indoctrination could be described as the transmission of doctrines of which we are suspicious by teaching methods which we regard as morally objectionable.”

Patricia Smart

I have written about the different influences on the school curriculum and how I have experienced them from different angles and perspectives. See Propaganda in Schools. It has been a strand through teaching in a mining area during the 1980s strikes, through working with the developers of the Channel tunnel, through the government-funded “development awareness” (or global learning) and even through education for sustainable development and  sustainable communities. So, I was interested to find in clearing out student files from 1974-1977 that the course at Edge Hill College had included a short topic on indoctrination. This might explain my willingness to embrace the issue at times in my career. It gives a coherence to matters seeming random and chaotic at the time.

It is also a timeless concern as we have experienced, in recent years, the absence of evidence employed in debating the UK leaving the EU (Brexit), such American neo-con and libertarian ideas as “fake news” and  “alternative facts” and lack of a common government approach to the global pandemic.

Here are the Edge Hill College second year course notes from 1976 which provide a nutshell introduction.

Criteria for labelling some teaching indoctrination:
Method
Content
Intention

Snook suggests that there are:

  1. Cases which are clearly indoctrination:
    Teaching an ideology as if it were the only one with any claim to rationality.
    Teaching, as if they are certain, propositions which the teacher knows are uncertain.
    Teaching propositions which the teacher knows to be false.

2. Cases which seem like indoctrination, but are not:
Teaching young children acceptable behaviour.
Teaching facts by rote.
Influencing the child unconsciously.

3. Problematic cases:
Inculcating beliefs which the teacher believes are certain, but which are substantially disputed.
Teaching any subject without due concern for the understanding.

NB This classification can of course be disputed.

Suggestions for Tutorial Discussion
1. Can a belief be certain?
2. “The educator offers reasons for accepting a belief, the indoctrinator rationalisations.” (Smart)
3. Indoctrination is immoral and unjustifiable.
4. All teachers are indoctrinators.
5. What is the relationship, if any, between education and indoctrination?
Numbers 4 and 5 are suitable for essays.

My hand-written notes suggest, on method, the way in which belief is taught matters. Teaching a belief can be alright but belief taught as truth is indoctrination. On content, subject matter is important. If it can be verified empirically it is not necessarily indoctrination. There is a difference in logical status. Thirdly, by intention, one must consider motive.

There is a note on a research survey in Morocco (1970) which showed that 76% of the population knew that a man had landed on the moon and 20% of them believed it. In that context, what does “knew” mean?

References
Smart, Patricia Thinking and Reasoning, Macmillan
Snook, I A (ed) Concepts of Indoctrination, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Here’s the first page of the Course notes.

I have also written about the Geography course at Edge Hill College. >

By Angus Willson

The editor of this site and author of this blogpost.

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