When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the summer approached Moms for Liberty, a new national mothers organization that promotes greater parental control over what children learn in school, he joined them in arguing for what he called education rather than indoctrination. “Our school system is for educating children, not indoctrinating children,” he said to enthusiastic applause.
This thought is part of a national movement that is growing every day. In an August survey, 1 in 4 teachers reported restrictions on what she could say and discuss in their classrooms. In fact, dozens of states have now passed or are considering passing laws limiting what teachers can teach on social issues.
Educators across the ideological spectrum from the governor of Florida have emphasized the indoctrination inherent in the DeSantis approach to teaching and learning.
But DeSantis and those across the country who accuse teachers and schools of indoctrination do not have the obvious: all education is indoctrination to some degree, and whether you label education or indoctrination in school curricula depends primarily on your point. of sight.
Indeed, educators across the ideological spectrum from the governor of Florida have emphasized the indoctrination inherent in the DeSantis approach to teaching and learning. The state’s Stop WOKE Act prohibits instructors from teaching students that they should feel guilty about past injustices. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation earned the nickname by banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the lower grades.
In fact, whatever curriculum teachers present to students emerges from someone’s point of view. It could be the views of textbook authors or publishers, researchers, scholars, modern media, Internet sources, or themselves. No one who teaches can claim that their education, life circumstances, or belief system do not influence their choices about what they impart to students.
Indeed, the belief that education should impart certain values along with raw knowledge and skills motivated early advocates who saw universal public education as essential to democracy. Founders of traditional American public education such as Horace Mann were engaged in education as an indoctrination to civic values. Mann argued that students had to learn to overcome ignorance, selfishness and passion in order to participate rationally in self-government.
Distinguished scholars such as linguist Noam Chomsky have argued that the purpose of public education has always been to indoctrinate students in the social and governance philosophy that American society needs to continue. Chomsky describes traditional education as a means of instilling obedience and conformity in young people.
Critical and creative thinking is also guided by its own ideology and values. The choices about who deserves to be educated and what matters in curricula are imbued with the philosophy that shapes worldviews. Only relatively recently has universal literacy become a goal for all citizens, not just the elite who have been prepared for leadership and power. Controversies over the teaching of evolution reflect the conflict that can occur between religious and scientific thought.
The ideals of liberal education in the post-internet world, in particular, speak of helping children find reliable information about the world and teaching them to use that information to draw their own conclusions. But the information chosen, if, for example, reveals the nation’s flaws along with its results, it inevitably reflects different assumptions about what children need to know to become productive contributors to our society.
As professionals, teachers recognize these challenges and are taught to pay attention to hidden programs and correct their prejudices. Just as we expect the Catholic Supreme Court judges who recently voted to overthrow Roe v. Wade resist allowing the principles of their religion to influence their decisions about abortion rights, we expect teachers to put aside their personal beliefs and teach the truth to the best of their ability. Like the rest of us, teachers today may struggle to identify the truth and people of good will may disagree, but the search for truth is vital to the educational process.
In this process, teachers are trained to present sometimes opposing points of view to ensure that students face and combat such conflicts. Teaching our differences and our increasingly diverse culture may seem to some like a form of indoctrination that undermines American exceptionalism, but to others it is an affirmation of the American way of life and the democratic principle of equal opportunities for all.
Throwing the word indoctrination around should not scare or intimidate parents or citizens or lead them to draw disastrous conclusions about content promoted in public schools. Indeed, the most essential values that 21st-century education reformers, as well as educational philosophers like John Dewey and Paulo Freire, have advocated is mind-opening education, which focuses on problem solving. , on inquiry and critical thinking, and which teaches students to think for themselves rather than blindly ingesting the knowledge imparted by their instructors.
In this scenario, teachers lose the power to corrupt or even influence the conclusions students draw. If Florida schools convert to such a system, perhaps DeSantis and anxious parents could learn to trust their children and reassure them.