Friday, January 7, 2011

Education without Indoctrination: is it possible?

Training. Schooling. Education. Indoctrination. All related, but not the same. Does it matter? Only if you care about getting what you want, knowing what you have, and who pays for it.

I regularly read the ACTA updates and often sympathize with their policy positions. ACTA, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, is hardly a rabidly liberal organization. Their slogan is “Promoting Academic Excellence and Accountability.”

Yet in their Update January 6th 2011 they reveal one of their resolutions for American education:
Bringing a robust exchange of ideas in the classroom. Schooling should be for education, not indoctrination.
I suggest that some careful thought shows their resolution to have some problems.
Let’s consider a contrary idea: Education is Schooling together with Indoctrination. However, indoctrination is not one simple kind of thing.

What is Indoctrination? Indoctrination is:
any attempt to teach (or anything taught)
a. without justification, or

b. without justification understood (or accepted) by its recipients as having a reasonable basis.

There are two kinds of indoctrination schools might engage in:
a. that which supports organization functioning, e.g. study your lessons, pay your tuition, come to class on time, do what your professor assigns you, and the like.

b. doctrines and practices relating to school function externalities, eg. religious, political or social doctrines.

It is practically often difficult to keep these things separate. If you can identify an ideology, that makes it easier. But what about beliefs in the desirability of higher education? Or in the desirability of certain curriculum? Or that certain achievements, e.g. degrees and publications, are worthy of recognition? Or that degreed people are worthy of respect merely because of that degree?

Such beliefs are generally taken for granted, institutionalized in the structure of the school. But the fact that they are disputable is indicated by the existence of course electives, for one example; or by any variation from a lock-step curriculum.

A professor may invite challenge and debate on the desirability of various economic systems. He is unlikely to invite challenge or debate when it comes to the syllabus content, or classroom or grading procedure.

To examine some importantly related issues further, see Trading-Off "Sacred" Values: 
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate"

--- EGR