, ,

Indoctrination or: Education’s Failure

“It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.” -Henry David Thoreau

In my time amid the hustle and bustle of the Internet and in the company of people from any number of backgrounds, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: very few have the faintest clue what they truly believe, much less why they even believe it. It’s not so much that they’ve been avoiding understanding, but rather for centuries our culture has encouraged so many of us to lead insular lives. Traditionally, we surround ourselves with like-minded peers who simply create an echo chamber for our ideas, thus cutting off any need for the necessary critical discussion that brings about understanding.

Huddled in our ideological fortresses, having never really encountered a need to defend our beliefs, our walls were eventually breached by mass communication and this pervasive utility called the Internet. It’s only reasonable that a type of shock should ensue as we’re suddenly brought from the shadows into the light. We’re now in constant contact with so many views that differ from our own. We feel threatened, of course, because we realize everyone else pursues their own beliefs with just as much zeal as we do ours. But without gaining an understanding of our own beliefs through critical analysis, we have no ammunition in this vast battlefield we find ourselves thrust upon. That leaves entrenchment as the only choice. And so, the crusaders barricade themselves in their comfort zones and lob clods of rhetoric at the opposition (it’s all they have on hand, after all) in the desperate hope that they’ll eventually bury the others’ argument if they can just throw enough dirt. As any rational person could have guessed, this obnoxious tactic has gotten us absolutely nowhere. If anything, it’s left all sides struggling in the suffocating mud, resentful of the opposition who continues to toss handfuls of dirt our way to further entrap us.

“Decades of dumbed-down education no doubt have something to do with this, but there is more to it than that. Education is not merely neglected in many of our schools today, but is replaced to a great extent by ideological indoctrination.” -Thomas Sowell, “Is Thinking Obsolete?”

Put simply, we no longer educate or encourage critical thought. Instead, we live in an age of indoctrination, as though the classic science fiction plot device of clones downloading their consciousnesses from a central network has been true for ages. Ideologies and philosophy – arguably the most important aspects of our lives – are simply passed down generations or, even worse, adopted for convenience or a perceived lack of alternatives. It’s becoming quite clear that most people now seem to hold a particular stance for no other reason than that they have been trained to do so and are expected to remain in this position by their peers and family.

Today, I argue that a belief by indoctrination is not a belief at all; it is little more than a shell. It may hold up in appearance, but it crumbles the instant another idea cracks it. All you have to do is to witness a talking head on network media or an Internet commenter spouting political gobbledygook running into a counter argument. The collapse is almost instantaneous and practically as reliable as a fine timepiece. That’s because of a simple reality: religions cannot be passed down generations, political ideas cannot be taught as doctrine, values cannot be forced into the young.

As human beings, we are designed for independent thought – we are the only known creatures gifted with reason – but indoctrination is so much easier. In the absence of critical thought, indoctrination breeds laziness of mind and spirit. We go to school and have knowledge drilled into us, but so rarely understanding; there’s no time for questioning or depth of thought, declares the schedule. We listen to different political camps and vote for whoever tells us what we want to hear, without stopping to examine the philosophical underpinnings or long-term consequences; that’s just how the system works, so they say. We live our lives as though marching through an if-then table, for no other reason than because it’s what’s expected of us; it’s part of our social contract, they proclaim.

“The failure of our educational system goes beyond what they fail to teach. It includes what they do teach, or rather indoctrinate, and the graduates they send out into the world, incapable of seriously weighing alternatives for themselves or for… society.” -Thomas Sowell, “Is Thinking Obsolete?”

For a change I’m finally able to write from personal experience, and not just from a theoretical or philosophical standpoint. Like pretty much every other member of our species, I grew up under a specific ideology and system of values. And for a great majority of my life I never had need to examine my views, because nearly everyone around me was of nearly the same mind. After all, why should a monkey in a barrel wonder why he’s in a barrel at all when he sees all the other monkeys in there with him? It’s obviously just the way it is, right? Well, eventually the barrel gets opened and light finds its way in.

I’m sorry to say that as my exposure to the Internet came about, I took part in the very same rhetoric wars I now mock. But then, I had no other weapon. In my natural echo chamber there was never a need to seek an understanding of my own views. In time, as I became increasingly independent and conscious of philosophy, my evaluation finally turned upon myself. And then everything came to a halt. I soon realized that in never stopping to fully understand my ideologies, they were never truly mine. I had no choice but to scrap my entire worldview. What remained was a completely clean plot upon which I chose to forge a new, stable philosophical foundation. The details of this process are a matter for another day’s discussion, but the point is that I was in my prime human element: using my independent mind and reason to understand the world around me.

The philosophy I walked away with was so very different from what I held when I innocently looked upon myself, and yet I know it’s truly mine because it was developed from the ground up through critical thought in a quest for understanding. (While I readily admit it’s not perfect and continues to evolve, thus far it’s one of the most stable philosophies I’ve encountered.) From a few basic fundamentals I determined irrefutable, my religion, my politics, even the way I live was changed in rejecting indoctrination and embracing independent thought.

Having been through the process myself, I now see so many others mired in the same moors in which I once found myself. The problem can be fixed, but we must encourage critical thinking and a marketplace of ideas. We must abandon indoctrination once and for all. We build our entire lives upon our philosophies. How can we possibly allow something so fundamentally important to be thrust upon us without taking time for our own critical evaluation? And once we learn to apply our reason to the most important parts of our lives, applying it across the board becomes an almost elementary exercise. In the end, we end up with a life that is truly our own. And what greater achievement can there be for man?

“…shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear…
“In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision.” -Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1787