Democracy and Indoctrination

One of the great difficulties in delineating a comprehensive educational curriculum is deciding what values and facts ought to be taught. It seems reasonable to conclude that the factual information imparted to students should be based on currently accepted scientific models of reality (though the desired amount of such learning is less clear), but what metric are we to use when teaching human values? We cannot appeal to any sense of objective reality–as can be done with facts–since values are inherently subjective. There exists then a conflict between the systematic process of mass education and the individualized nature of personal beliefs. Any attempt to standardize a set of values onto the public at large would be rightfully seen as indoctrination; but, given the relative homogeneity of fundamental beliefs that do exist within communities, it would seem that indoctrination in general is already the norm. It is therefore not a question of if we should indoctrinate our students, but more a matter of what exactly we should indoctrinate them with.

As far as indoctrination is concerned, the student will virtually always be a child. To attempt broad psychological conditioning in a collegiate setting, for instance, is far more dubious. By young-adulthood, an individual will not be very receptive to the direct transfer of values due to a greater desire for self-determination. This is not really an obstacle for indoctrination, however, because most of the fundamental beliefs seen as universally desirable are imprinted onto humans at a young age–when the psyche is most suggestible. From the perspective of education, this would take place in elementary and middle (junior high) school.

If we turn then to the relationship between democracy and education, it would seem that it is very much a matter of indoctrination. Logical arguments can of course be put forward for the inherent superiority or desirability of democracy, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that this position is rooted in objective fact. To advocate for democracy is to implicitly advocate for a set of specific values and goals regarding the proper relationship between government and citizen. Such ideas must be implanted into the next generation in order to create and maintain a stable democracy. On the other hand, an education that endorses oligarchy would also indoctrinate its students into a specific frame of mind that enables the the oligarchs to rule effectively. One can argue the relative merits of these two governments, but it is difficult to deny that the process needed to sustain them is fundamentally the same.

It is often popular to argue that democracy requires an open and liberated mind, while the more stereotypically oppressive regimes demand repressed and indoctrinated psyches. This seems a simplistic analysis at best; at worst it is self-aggrandizing rhetoric from supporters of democracy. Democracy is but one way to achieve an effective state, and it is far from being universally reliable. If one values, above all else, a government that can effectively support and defend its citizens, then it may be quite reasonable to prefer a more autocratic government. As before, the question becomes that of personal values–does the populace hold political self-determination as being of paramount importance? If so, then only a democracy will suffice; if not, many other system may be preferable. It is not a question of who is more intellectually liberated, rather it is a matter of what values are being emphasized via cultural osmosis or directed imprinting.


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