Home Opinions Indoctrinating children hinders critical skills

Indoctrinating children hinders critical skills

Illustration by: Birmy Michelle | Staff Illustrator

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.


  1. (Quick warning, this may be long and I’m not a good writer)

    While I’m down for preventing kids from going to Jesus Camp, joining violent gangs, and going to Waco, the other indoctrination examples you have in your fourth paragraph are a little off. Yes, through those articles you provided, honor killings and forced marriages are happening in America, they are however, according to your articles, contradictory to your statement that they are not isolated to 3rd world nations. These killings and marriages are being perpetrated by first or second generation Americans from other countries where these practices are commonplace and cultural. And that is a topic for another article. As for polygamy, that in itself if not inherently wrong or anymore a subject of indoctrination than monogamy. The abuse that is occurring in your article happens to have been committed by a polygamist and has no reflection on polygamy itself much in the same way that honor killing a gay family member has no reflection on heterosexuality, honor, or family. In fact, one can say that monogamy is a strong American indoctrination in that polygamy is for some reason illegal when there is nothing to suggest it causes anyone any harm whatsoever.
    (Insert non sequitur here) It doesn’t matter if you reviewed climate data personally yourself or not, it’s a fact. And the notion that we as untrained random Americans are qualified to look at scientific data and make assumptions is a dangerous practice we continue to allow. Hundreds of U.S. lawmakers follow this train of thought and enact adverse policies that directly harm everyone. You see it with climate change deniers and old white dudes thinking themselves experts on women’s health. You also see in everyday Americans who come to their own conclusion about vaccination being bad for their children and bring back nearly extinct diseases such as the measles.
    Children are dumb. You said it yourself, just a little more eloquently. If we leave children to their own devices to make up their judgement about the world without the interference of their parents, they are going to end up horrible people. If parents don’t instill their beliefs on children, the little turds are going to grow up thinking that the women they see on cover of Cosmo at the checkout isle are how women are supposed to look. They’ll think that whatever the cheesy chalupa thing from the Taco Bell commercials is what food really is. And if they live in Texas, they’ll become Republicans and vote for Ted Cruz. You can provide your 8 year old with opposing arguments and let them decide, but without explaining them how Cosmo, Taco Bell, and Ted Cruz are horribly wrong, they’ll believe in them because that is what they see and children don’t really have the higher cognitive function to think for themselves.

Comments are closed.