ANTOSZYK: For better or worse, indoctrination?

A few months ago, as this season’s Republican primary candidates began to seek the spotlight, I found that the loonier few had overshadowed some of the more familiar faces. Some of their views and personalities were so wild I was convinced that it didn’t matter whom I voted for as long as I was voting against them. While part of me wanted to regret the loss of productive political discourse, I was mostly happy to watch a seemingly drunk Rick Perry discredit himself at a press conference in New Hampshire.

It was this part of me that was quick to dismiss Ron Paul as just another wacko after hearing him claim that “education is not a right.” Even if I wanted to avoid a philosophical debate on the topic, I thought the whole world had been in agreement since the 18th century that government-mandated education was a good thing to have. However, Ron Paul’s repeated arguments against No Child Left Behind and the Department of Education forced me to admit that even if these really were just the ravings of a wacko, my best argument in response to his criticisms was that, c’mon, obviously the federal government should have a hand in education.

Feeling unsatisfied with my response, I decided to look a little more closely into education policy. During this process, I discovered one particularly thought-provoking comment made, again, by Ron Paul. In March 2011, he claimed in a speech that the Department of Education wants to “indoctrinate children.” There are three things that I instantly associate with indoctrination: Nazis, “Jesus Camp” and “Brave New World.”

I immediately sought to prove to myself why the American public school system was nothing like and infinitely superior to all my instinctive associations. Our schools do not teach Aryan superiority. They do not teach one faith as incontrovertible truth. They certainly do not play us recordings in our sleep, Huxley’s dystopian vision of hypnopedic indoctrination. Content I was right, I knew I had stoutly disproved Ron Paul’s claims: I was indoctrination-free. My peace of mind, unfortunately, was short-lived.

The uncomfortable thought soon popped into my mind that all the value judgments I had made about harmful indoctrination were perhaps colored by my own systematic indoctrination. Hadn’t I always been told that all men are created equal? Hadn’t I always been told that democracy was good? Hadn’t I always been told, long before I arrived at college and began to hear actual debate on the topic, that human rights exist and that they are good?

Aghast, I admitted defeat. Ron Paul was right after all. Our educational system was a detestable juggernaut of indoctrination, filling children’s minds without offering them critical analysis. But again, the resolution to my internal debate was brief. I realized moments later that my heart was filled with gratitude for whatever kind soul had decided upon my indoctrination.

Children, we all know, are impressionable; someone is going to be indoctrinating them, even if it is indoctrination in the ways of skepticism. So is the idea that our public schools are a “propaganda machine,” as Paul suggested, such a bad one? I don’t have a problem with all the children in our country being forced to learn and accept that all men are created equal, that democracy is good and maybe even that Church should be separate from State. They will grow to question and to change their minds, but wouldn’t we be starting them off in a good spot?

The questions surrounding the organization and accountability of our schools is a complex one, but if we allow the federal government no other role, perhaps letting it decide a set of principles with which to indoctrinate our children is a good idea. Would it really be a disservice to our nation to raise a generation that was steadfastly in favor of equal rights for all? If we could prove it works, I might even support some hypnopedia affirming that all humans have rights, and maybe even that one of them is a right to education.

Matt Antoszyk is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at matthew.antoszyk@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    No Child Left Behind “teaches” that adults believe there is a universal recipe for the acquisition of knowledge and that teachers are the chefs who must follow this recipe so that children will emerge from 12 years in the oven fully baked.

    This may not be indoctrination, but it is regimentation.

    Human beings are not ingredients.

    PK

  • River_Tam

    “Positive rights” are not rights at all, but merely us claiming that others owe us some obligation. Our only rights are negative rights.

  • yayasisterhood

    Test scores have declined since establishment of D.O.E.

  • eli2015

    After a rambling train of thought, the author finally reaches the (correct) conclusion that it is impossible to provide a “values-neutral” education – that it is impossible to teach students objective facts without including value judgements implicit in the assumptions, methodology, and focus of the teacher. The very fact that schoolchildren are required to be educated implies that they ought to value education; the teaching of chemistry implies that empirical analysis ought to be trusted; if 9th graders read the Iliad, there is an implicit judgement that the contributions of the Greek civilization ought to be valued.

    However, the author makes a fundamental error of assuming that the federal government is the entity that ought to imbue children with the proper values. While the author celebrates his “indoctrination” for “starting [him] off in a good spot,” what if the government were to indoctrinate his kids with values he disagrees with? What if his kids were taught that the five books of Moses were compiled by four separate writers, if the author wants them to believe otherwise? What if they were forced to pledge “One nation under God” each morning, if the author wanted to them to believe otherwise? What if the teacher taught that “education is a right,” and River_Tam’s kids were in the class?

    As useful as it is to have moral instincts that align with the views that you arrive at rationally, it is equally annoying to have moral instincts that conflict with your beliefs. Ultimately, parents are the ones responsible for the moral values of their children, not the government. To the extent that public schools can avoid teaching children values (although it is inevitably unavoidable), they ought to.

    I understand the age-old opinion, upheld by both Plato and Aristotle, that it is the government’s job to mold the young into good citizens of the state. As much as I respect the good intentions of this line of thought, America’s 26% voter turnout is ultimately a failure of its parents, not its government. To contend otherwise is to open the door to the propaganda often seen in the educational systems of authoritarian states.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “What if the teacher taught . . . ?”

    I thought teachers didn’t “teach” but rather, provided opportunities for learning.

    PK

    • River_Tam

      > I thought teachers didn’t “teach” but rather, provided opportunities for learning.

      Good teachers do both. Bad teachers do neither.

  • jamesdakrn

    LOL if it werent for my team that switched back and forth from the republicans and democrats y’all didn do crap. Undefeated baby!

  • JohnnyE

    This article reads like it was written by a strawman “libtard” created by Fox News.

  • River_Tam

    > So is the idea that our public schools are a “propaganda machine,” as Paul suggested, such a bad one?

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the problem with liberals.

  • percula

    Your mentioning Brave New World brought to mind the “other” dystopia from that era: Orwell’s 1984. When the author says “I realized moments later that my heart was filled with gratitude for whatever kind soul had decided upon my indoctrination,” I couldn’t help but think of Winston’s pitiful last thought: “He loved Big Brother.”

    I get what the author is trying to say. He appreciates the values with which he’s been indoctrinated. This is not very surprising, when you think about it. It just means that the indoctrination system, whether or not we limit it to what happens at school (spoiler alert: it’s bigger than that), did its job well.

    The author stumbled upon a more important point when he bemoaned that schools fail by not “offering [students] critical analysis.” Good teachers, I propose, model critical analysis themselves and convey to their students tools with which they can engage in critical analysis too. Of course, there is no such thing as bias-free analysis, since the questions we ask are always already influenced by the biases we bring to the table. Take 1984 again: the relationship between questions and answers that we take for granted is completely foreign to that dystopian world. So, not only is the “indoctrination” inescapable; the ability to reflect critically on the content of the indoctrination is inescapable as well. What’s a person to do? Well, the inescapability of these modes of human experience doesn’t mean, ipso facto, that they’re “bad.” And self-awareness may be half the battle. So kudos to Antoszyk for learning to recognize the effects of indoctrination on himself, and good luck coming to terms with them.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Human beings are not ingredients in a social recipe,

    The delusion that benchmarks, rubrics and a core curriculum navigated by students employing those devices can standardize learning, is the fantasy of a society which has already surrendered individual freedom to the regimentation of “experts.”

    The result? The deadening of childhood wonder.

    Parents beware.

  • deb113

    I happen to agree with the writers of our Constution, who established that States rather than the Federal Government, would control education.
    Education is neither a right nor a privilege, but rather a natural product of our humanity. Just as indoctrination cannot be avoided, so also education comes through our exposure to life. I live therefore I learn, consciously or not. Our capacity to learn leads us to self education.
    Of course Ron Paul was more likely referring to whether or not the federal or even the state should give all children the right to a free public education, paid for by the government. It was not very long ago that disabled children, in the eyes of the federal government, did not have the right to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education.” The teeth in the federal law, once established, was that the Federal Government would deny funding to states who failed to comply with the new law.
    The question is:
    1) Do citizens want the burden of paying for the education of children to fall one the shoulders of parents only?
    Or,
    2) Through government do we require all citizens to pay into a system that enables it’s children to be educated according to the values of the culture, predominantly the culture of the majority of the citizens?
    Parents have the right to home school if the possess the resources to enable them to do so, and they have the right to utilize private school as well.
    What this debate really hinges on is whether or not the people are willing to collectively pay for the education of all. For, if we continue to agree that we should teach reading, writing and math, we will succeed in giving our citizens the basic tools they need for further learning.
    Unfortunately, we tend to see children as innocent and worthy of our help, while adults are responsible for their own welfare. The culture of poverty has led to a breakdown of the values that enable our society to prosper. Public education has proven to be an inadequate means of transmitting the values of education, work ethic, responsibility and comminity that enable its children to move from dependence on the system to a place of self reliance and responsible living.
    In the absence of a system that effectively gives citizens the ability to escape the culture of poverty which raises children and encourages adults to be dependant on the funds supplied by the government, as well as illegal sources of revenue, for their very survival, Republicans while continue to question the value of paying for education for all, and Democrats will be left arguing philosophically because the reality is government is not serving the people well because its citizens do not hold the values that enable it to function effectively.