There are some who argue that education is virtually always synonymous with indoctrination, and those who hold this position certainly have evidence to support it. The U.S. government removed native children from their homes, put them in boarding schools, forbade them from speaking their own languages, and indoctrinated them with very specific values and beliefs. These practices continue today with children from indigenous families around the world who lose their languages and cultures as they head off to boarding schools that aim to help prepare them for a very different future than village living. The Dairy Council has been producing “educational materials” for schools and indoctrinating several generations with the belief that we need dairy products for our health, which is patently false. Corporations in general utilize schools to indoctrinate students and influence them to prefer their products over others and to become productive workers within a global, corporate culture.
But this does not mean that education is by its very nature indoctrination. We mustn’t confuse education with schooling, because they are not synonymous. Education happens all the time, through interactions, mentoring, reading, apprenticeships, observation, and simply living. Of course it also happens in school where specific subjects are taught and we gain new skills and knowledge. Schools can be places where indoctrination takes place in a wholesale fashion, as when it serves a specific ideology and seeks to produce graduates who have specific beliefs, rather than simply a breadth of knowledge and skills. And schools can also be places where indoctrination is subtle but still pervasive. But schools do not have to be places of indoctrination. Certainly, we are all enculturated in school, but this is not the same.
The definition of indoctrinate is this:
to teach somebody a belief, doctrine, or ideology thoroughly and systematically, especially with the goal of discouraging independent thought or the acceptance of other opinions
School can and should be one of the very best places to encourage independent thought, critical and creative thinking, and broad understanding of and appreciation for a multitude of perspectives. I believe that we need to be developing and promoting schools that are committed wholeheartedly to exposing students to a variety of viewpoints and providing them with the most important tools for their future: problem-solving, and critical and creative thinking, along with a deep commitment to living lives that contribute to a healthy world.
President, Institute for Humane Education