The term “indoctrination” often carries a negative connotation in the minds of many. That is even true in the religious community, where we hear frequent complaints about children being “indoctrinated” in secular humanism by the public school system, especially as it relates to the teaching of Darwinian evolution. This issue of secular indoctrination in public education is a primary cause of the rise in home schooling which we have witnessed nationally over the last couple of decades.
The argument by these opponents against the presentation of Darwinian evolution in school generally cites a lack of critical evaluation of alternatives, more specifically the more traditional biblical account of creation. Inherent in this argument is the contention that the proponents of Darwinism are involved in indoctrination rather than education. Such contentions are more than ironic when one considers the uncritical way the church demands that their congregants accept their doctrinal pronouncements. If critical thinking and evaluation of alternative understandings is needed in the field of secular education, why is it not also a virtue in religious instruction? If all the “home schoolers” were not concerned about their children being exposed to alternative ideas which might encourage critical re-evaluation, then there would be no surge in this form of education. In effect, these parents attempt to replace one form of indoctrination with another.
The idea of protecting children by denying exposure to alternative ideas about reality is flawed in many respects. The uncritical acceptance of any concept is not healthy for children. We, as parents, are not in the business of generating clones of ourselves or robots to do our bidding. This concept of child rearing is basely ignoble on the face of it. In addition, in the current state of technology, any attempt to isolate our children from alternative ideas will necessitate draconian measures and even then is doomed to failure.
One need only consider the occasional news stories about how small church sects try to withdraw from society at large and create little enclaves of religious purity, where their offspring are isolated from all outside influence, to see the negative consequences of such an approach. Church indoctrination, in these groups, generally morphs into what society at large perceives as abusive. One can argue about the definition of abuse all day, but it is difficult to view such an environment as totally benign, in terms of healthy development.
Parenting is admittedly an awesome responsibility, and its practice by anyone is subject to many mistakes of judgment. The issue of when and how society should intervene in the private lives of parents to save their children from abuse will remain controversial. Abusive behavior is difficult to define and even more difficult to regulate.
That not withstanding, any group that views the current physical, emotional, and mental well-being of their children as being vastly less important than their religious indoctrination, is a group which is ripe for exactly the abusive behaviors which society so abhors. In this scenario, “religious freedom” can easily become the license for “crimes against humanity”.