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What Is “Indoctrination”?



“Indoctrination” is a term which refers to the intent to impose ideas or beliefs upon people in areas that ultimately call for individual reflection, decision-making, and choice. It is a distasteful activity because it is aimed at limiting the individual’s ability to think and choose. Religious or moral education are not necessarily indoctrination and it is possible to create a Jewish education that is not indoctrination.
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B. Chazan, Principles and Pedagogies in Jewish Education,
What Is “Indoctrination”?
Abstract “Indoctrination” is a term which refers to the intent to impose
ideas or beliefs upon people in areas that ultimately call for individual
reection, decision-making, and choice. It is a distasteful activity because
it is aimed at limiting the individual’s ability to think and choose. Religious
or moral education are not necessarily indoctrination and it is possible to
create a Jewish education that is not indoctrination.
Keywords Indoctrination • Intention • Teaching from within
Religious education and moral education have the dubious distinction of
being associated and equated with “indoctrination”. This chapter deals
with the concept of indoctrination by asking three questions: (1) What is
indoctrination? (2) Are religious and moral education the paradigm cases
of indoctrination? (3) Is a Jewish education that is not indoctrination
This chapter is based on chapter 5in Barry Chazan, The Language of Jewish
Education: Crisis and Hope in the Jewish School. NewYork: Hartmore House
Press, 1978.
“IndoctrInatIonasanEmotIvE tErm ofdIsapproval
The most immediate and striking sense of the word “indoctrination” is its
use as an emotional expression of disapproval. Even those who believe that
there are moments when schools and teachers need to take strong stands
actually show a reluctance to use the word “indoctrinate”, since it suggests
a distasteful or nefarious activity. What are the characteristics of this activ-
ity that leads many people to have such strong reactions?
IndoctrInatIon asamEthodology
One explanation of the word “indoctrination” regards it as the transmis-
sion of certain contents that uses a methodology of not presenting all sides
of a subject or “stacking the deck” by selecting facts and ideas that will
guarantee the acceptance of specic ideas or beliefs. Such a methodology
includes incomplete or one-sided arguments, deliberate falsication or
suppression of evidence, impassioned and emotional slogans, and preach-
ing rather than teaching, all of which are aimed at the imposition of spe-
cic ideologies in the minds of students.
It must be said that most schooling at certain times utilizes methodolo-
gies related to such areas as attendance decorum and behavioral stan-
dards that may seem arbitrary but are ultimately “rules of the game” that
enables schools to function. Similarly, the use of force is not automatically
indoctrination if aimed at preventing damage, disorder, or a more serious
danger. Indoctrination as a methodology refers to manipulation of the
mind rather the body. Hiding facts, disparaging student opinions, or
rejecting any ideas that contradict the teacher’s beliefs are examples of
indoctrination. Indoctrination is a means of forcing, brainwashing, or
imposing desired ideologies without open discussion. The notion of
indoctrination as a methodology refers to authoritarian ways to manipu-
late rather than educate the mind.
IndoctrInatIon ascontEnts
A second understanding of the word “indoctrination” proposes that it is
not the methods used that characterize it, but rather the contents or sub-
jects being taught. Indoctrination occurs when schools and teachers
intend to present certain kinds of contents as fact when they are really just
opinion or belief. Teaching the core principles of physics is not
indoctrination because it is based on shared knowledge and research.
However, imposing certain moral, religious, or political positions, is
regarded as indoctrination because it is not based on shared knowledge
and research but are matters of personal opinion and feelings. This
approach assumes that the contents of education must be subjects which
“any sane and sensible person” would accept, while the contents of indoc-
trination are the opposite (Snook 1972). Therefore, if we are to avoid
indoctrination, the contents we teach must be rational in the sense that
they are validated by publicly available and accepted evidence.
The “subjects” which are regarded as the exemplars of potential indoc-
trination are religion, politics, and morality. These subjects are regarded as
prime contents of indoctrination because they are ideologies and/or
beliefs systems which are not known to be true or false and whose verica-
tion is speculative. In our contemporary world, the list of potential sub-
jects prone to indoctrination has expanded and for some critics it also
includes the teaching of history, social studies, and civics, which increas-
ingly regarded as tools in the hands of indoctrinators (Beyer and Apple
1998). The group of educationists sometimes denoted as “the Critical
School” argue that much of what is part of the regular school curriculum
today is not shaped by facts but by the viewpoints of certain power brokers
or ideologues whose intent is to impose values and worldviews rather than
to open minds and nurture critical thinking.
IndoctrInatIon asIntEntIon
A third approach to indoctrination claims that while the methodologies
and contents schools are well-intentioned in their attempt to explain
indoctrination, they have missed the core dening characteristic.
Sometimes the so-called “methods” of indoctrination are useful in certain
areas of education in which there are basic skills sets or contents to be
learned. The notion that certain contents dene indoctrination also misses
the point. It is not morality, religion, or politics that constitute indoctrina-
tion, but rather the intent of the teachers in teaching these subjects.
Religion, politics, and morality are important parts of the history of human
life and deserve to be studied. The problem is that very often the teaching
of these subjects is less about learning and more about imposing world-
views and beliefs systems on the young. The “intention” approach argues
that indoctrination is characterized by the aim or desire to inculcate
unshakable beliefs in others in a non-questioning, non-critical,
non-rational manner: “Indoctrination begins when we are trying to stop
the growth in our children of the capacity to think for themselves” (Hare
1964). Champions of this approach indicate that the danger of religious,
moral, or political education is that it often becomes the means by which
a teacher or school inculcate and impose viewpoints, perspectives, and
beliefs on the young, rather than analyzing and explicating the origins,
meanings, and outcomes of holding such beliefs. Indoctrination is not
about what you teach or how you teach but, ultimately, about why you are
teaching it.
arE rElIgIous, polItIcal, andmoral
EducatIon IndoctrInatIon?
It is clear why religious, political, and moral education are so often con-
nected with indoctrination. These topics involves spheres of reection,
behaviors, and standards which are typically regarded as personal matters
of choice, and therefore not within the purview of schools. From ancient
times until today, the spheres of religion, politics, and morality have
encompassed questions and issues that personally affect our lives in rela-
tionship to others and to the world. Religion, politics, and morality are
important topics in the history of humanity and in contemporary life, but
the red light of indoctrination is ignited when teachers forget that teach-
ing is aimed at learning, not imposition.
can thErE BEJEwIsh EducatIon that Is
not IndoctrInatIon?
In this chapter, we have examined diverse attempts to explain indoctrina-
tion and, while each attempt has pluses and minuses, ultimately it seems
that indoctrination is the denitive intention to inculcate and impose a
belief system and a set of behaviors on young people even if this means
denying them the ability to reect, think, and ultimately decide for
This discussion leads us to the question as to whether it is possible to
talk about Jewish education without indoctrination in our times. While
the subject of religion is not in itself indoctrination, there have been
numerous eras and frameworks in which the teaching of religions in gen-
eral—including Judaism—has seemed indoctrinatory. Jewish education,
like other forms of religious education, can well lend itself to such a
That being said, it is possible to delineate the parameters of an approach
to Jewish education which is not indoctrination. There are four corner-
stones of such a Jewish education: (1) intention, (2) core texts, (3) the
student as philosopher, and (4) teaching from within.
Jewish education without indoctrination focuses on presenting core ideas,
values, and behaviors of Jewish religion and civilization in a way that
enables young people to ask questions, and discuss the meaning of these
ideas. Such a Jewish education does not focus on inculcating viewpoints or
programming behaviors, but on opening the mind and heart of young
Jews to the richness of Jewish civilization and its relevance for contempo-
rary life. The intention of this approach is to teach- and not to preach- in
a way that honors the ability of the young to think, feel, and act.
Core Texts
The second cornerstone of a Jewish education without indoctrination is
the treasure chest of texts of the Jewish canon. (Crenshaw 1998; Dorff
and Crane 2013; Stampfer 2010). While Jewish tradition is full of an end-
less selection of “quotable quotes”, and even “do’s and don’ts”, it is the
opportunity to “meet in person” the ideas of the great texts which can be
so engaging and exciting for the young.2 Textbooks and short slogans give
answers, but they steal the question from the young. The opportunity to
open the “treasure chest” of Jewish texts and read them together with
peers and teachers should be at the heart of such an open Jewish education.
The Child asMoral Philosopher
The third cornerstone of Jewish education without indoctrination is the
ability of the young to question, reect, and think. This psychological and
philosophical assumption has been a prominent theme of late twentieth
and early twenty-rst-century educational psychology and philosophy:
Parents and teachers are often so impressed with the burdens they bear in
having to nurture, instruct, reassure, and inspire their children that they fail
to appreciate what children have to offer adults. One of the exciting things
that children have to offer us is a new philosophical perspective. (Matthews,
The Philosophy of Childhood, p.14)
We used to think that babies and young children were irrational, egocentric,
and amoral. Their thinking and experience were concrete, immediate, and
limited. In fact, psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered that
babies not only learn more, but imagine more, care more, and experience
more than we would ever have thought possible. In some ways, young chil-
dren are actually smarter, more imaginative, more caring, and even more
conscious than adults are. (Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby, p.5)
We need to listen carefully because sometimes the young hide their inquis-
itiveness by using the word “bored” or by putting their head on the desk.
Indeed, if they say they are bored, we need to listen because maybe we are
boring. Many visits to many classrooms in many places have convinced me
that our young are hungry to talk with us rather than be talked at by us.
We need to excite them and let these young philosophers talk together
with incredibly engaging ideas, sources, and texts.
Teaching fromWithin
The fourth cornerstone is best explained by the remarkable educationist
Parker Palmer, who has taught us about the hidden wholeness, the cour-
age to teach, teaching from within, and so many other ideas fundamental
to twenty-rst-century education and life. Parker Palmer suggests that the
key questions facing education are not only “what”, “how”, and “why”,
but “who” (Palmer 2007). He suggests that “the inner landscape of the
teaching self” or the “teacher from within” is central to the story of educa-
tion. In choosing a career in teaching, people are committing themselves
to a life-long profession of passion, not simply a job. The teacher’s internal
landscape includes intellectual, emotional, and spiritual elements:
Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from
the identity and integrity of the teacher”. (Palmer, pp.8–10)
The “teacher from within” needs content knowledge, pedagogic con-
tent knowledge, and the awareness that he/she is shaped by ambiguities,
humility, diversity, and even conict. We should not be afraid of these
feelings as they are a part of teaching from within—“ultimate faith is ulti-
mate doubt” (Tillich 2011). There could not be a more appropriate
description of the role of the teacher in such a twenty-rst-century Jewish
education than the multi-dimensional teacher with the courage to teach as
described by Parker.
It is the synthesis of these four cornerstones—intention, core texts, the
child as philosopher, and the teacher from within—that, together with the
appropriate effort, good will, and investment in our professionals, could
create a rich interactive and meaningful Jewish education which does not
come to impose Jewish from without, but rather enables Jewish values to
develop from within.
1. For discussion of the susceptibilities of Jewish education to be indoctrinary
see Barry Chazan “Should We Teach Jewish Values?” in Studies in Jewish
Education VI. The Magnes Press, pp. 66–83.
2. Contemporary Jewish educational thinking highlights pedagogies focused
on utilizing classical texts to make them accessible to young people in con-
temporary Jewish educational frameworks (Handelman 2011; Holzer 2016;
Holzer and Kent 2013; Levisohn and Fendrick 2013; Levisohn and
Kress 2018).
Beyer, Landon and Apple, Michael, editors. 1998. The Curriculum: Problems, and
Possibilities. (State University of NewYork).
Chazan, Barry. 1992. “Should We Teach Jewish Values” in Studies in Jewish educa-
tion VI. (The Magnes Press.) 66–83.
Crenshaw , James. 1998. Education in Ancient Israel. (Yale University Press).
Dorff, E.N. and Crane, J.K., eds. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and
Morality. (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Hare, R.S. 1964. The Language of Morals. (Oxford University Press).
Handelman, Susan. 2011. Make Yourself a Teacher. (Seattle: University of
Washington Press).
Holzer, Elie. 2016. Attuned Learning: Rabbinic Texts on Habits of the Heart in
Learning Interactions. (Boston: Academic Studies Press).
Holzer, Elie with Kent, Orit. 2013. A Philosophy of Havruta: Understanding and
Teaching the Art of Text Studies in Pairs. (Boston: Academic Studies Press).
Levisohn, J. and Fendrick, S. 2013. Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the
Teaching and Learning of Classical Jewish Texts. (Boston: Academic
Studies Press).
Levisohn, J. and Kress, J. 2018. Advancing the Learning Agenda in Jewish
Education. (Boston: Academic Studies Press).
Palmer, Parker. 2007. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a
Teacher’s Life. (San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons).
Snook, Ivan, ed. 1972. Indoctrination. (Teachers College Press).
Stampfer, Shaul. 2010. Families, Rabbis, and Education: Traditional Jewish Society
in 19th Century Eastern Europe. (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish
Tillich, Paul. 2011. Dynamics of Faith. (New York: HarperCollins).
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I. The Mfirmation of Teaching Values in Schools The teaching of values is popularly regarded as one of the impor­ tant missions of schools. Politicians, pedagogues, and parents are accustomed to regarding schools as important agents in the transmission and promulgation of great social and personal values. The role of schools in teaching values particularly comes to the fore when there is some crisis in society -Sputnik in the 1950s, the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, drugs in the 1970s. At such moments, schools are expected to devote great time and effort to the subject of teaching values so as to correct the ill or evil in question. There is, of course, no agreement as to what is meant by "teaching values" or how one does it. The concern for teaching values has spawned an extensive theoretical and practical litera­ ture around such questions as: What are values? Are they social or individual? Are they principles or practices? How do we teach them? Who should teach them? What materials should we use? A range of answers has been given to these questions by such twentieth century theorists as the disagreements among them are many and intense. However, they all share the belief that the activity ofteaching values is in itselfinherently valid and legitimate for schools. II. The Affirmation ofTeaching Values in Jewish Education Champions of Jewish education are quick to indicate that the 1 For an analysis and comparison of several of the major twentieth century schools of moral education, see Barry Chazan, Contemporary Approaches to Moral Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 1987). 66 SHOULD WE TEACH JEWISH VALUES? concern for teaching values ha Jewish education throughout tb examples in Jewish tradition­ Shema to Rabbi Israel Salant! teaching morality -as verificatl education with the subject. The traditional Jewish conce tends into contemporary Jewisl: The Reform movement in ducing texts and educatio: ues since the 1940s. 3 The establishment of the 1960s by the Conservativ. Seminary was closely Ii education.' In the 1960s the Torah (; project in teaching Jewis: Curriculum. 5 In the 1970s several JewiE ers began to experiment of the values clarification In the early 1980s the Jewish Education in the school program in teachiJ During the past decade we h2 apply Lawrence Kohlberg's co~ 2 Michael Rosenak, Teaching Je' University ofJerusalem, Melton CE 1986). 3 One of the classic texts of this ger York: UAHC, 1961). 4 A Program for Jewish Education (] 5 The Fryer Middos Curriculum (Ne 6 Dov Peretz Elkins, Clarifying Jeu (Rochester, New York: Growth l Jewish Experiential Book (New Yo 7 The conceptual framework of the I Jewish Values.
The Oxford Handbook of
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Should We Teach Jewish Values” in Studies in Jewish education VI
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