A parent’s job is not to convince his or her children what to think. Rather, a parent’s duty is to help his or her kids discover how to think for themselves. The ability to evaluate evidence individually and to argue with reason equips them with the safeguard of liberty: self-thought.
Telling your child there is only one way to think or one way to interpret a text prohibits progress because it seeds closed-mindedness. We should call it for what it is: child indoctrination. Indoctrination is the implantation of thought and behavior, either through psychological or physical means. It can be intentional or subliminal—both should be unacceptable, but the former is intolerable.
Indoctrination works because children are gullible. Most forms of prejudice survive because they are implanted in a child’s mind through tradition. A child’s mind ought to be encouraged toward self-discovery, rather than instilled with somebody else’s perception.
Indoctrination is not a practice delegated to third-world nations, as it happens in America quite often. From raising Christian warriors at Jesus camp ready to give their life for a fictional character, to the many secretive religious societies such as Branch Davidians and polygamists that abuse women and children, to inner city gangs that recruit youth for unspeakable operations, to forced marriages and honor killings, the United States is not immaculate. An example of subliminal indoctrination is the imbuement of national pride onto school children by forcing them to salute and pledge honor to a flag.
Of course we can change public schools with public policy, but the influence and shaping of a child’s mind involved with parenting is not something we can just legislate. Such a change has to be social. Just as rape is looked down upon in this part of the world and not in others, or how westerners do not view stoning as a valid punitive measure but some countries do—we have to want better for our children. Parents should not force beliefs or ideas on their children, because then the children advertise an identity they themselves did not arrive to through their own cognitive volition.
Most importantly, people need to be able to think critically for themselves, because genuine and original examination of ideas, practices and procedures are direly needed for securing the rights of everyone. From the workplace to the public, all of us have to be critical of attempts to exploit or oppress fellow people. Even at school newspapers, free labor exploitation is deemed acceptable. It should never be acceptable to take advantage of people’s labor, thoughts or personhood. The self-cultivation of the mind is key to protecting everyone from anyone.
Mental subversion of a child is typically a way of making them satisfied with arguments from authority. For instance, you should believe what this book says because I believe it, or you should believe that this law is just because legal experts say so.
For instance, one should not believe that climate change is being driven by human activities simply because 97.1 percent of all climate scientists believe it to be the case. Instead one should believe it is so because that’s what the data compels one to believe—evidence, not ethos. This requires one to be honest about the nature of the evidence, which requires one to be honest with oneself. As Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Take the risk of helping your child discover how to think for themselves. Much more joy, compassion and wisdom will come to them this way.