When children are taught religion, they are indoctrinated. As parents we can’t explain how the world really works to them–they won’t understand and nobody has the patience–so we happily give them simple skeletons which they can build on, that they can organize the necessarily limited experience and information they stumble across. We hope that the skeletons are elegant and strong enough to gird all the good information our children come across and allow them to create a robust, useful picture of how things are. Of course the problem with indoctrination is that it shuts of lines if inquiry, creating intellectual bias. If the process of education moves people from cocksure confidence to thoughtful uncertainty, indoctrination attempts to stall or abort this process–on a few important areas of thought at least.
Indoctrination is a big issue in our multi-cultural, increasingly divisive, political and ideological climate. At least one writer — David French– contends that Evangelicals’ failure to properly indoctrinate their children is part of the reason they fall short in church growth compared to moromons. Citing the Barna Group’s conclusion that of the 84 million Americans who claim to be Evangelical, only about 19 million actually hold orthodox beliefs, French advocates that Evangelicals must follow the LDS lead in teaching their distinctive beliefs and culture early and well.
But indoctrination is an extremely inflammatory concept. It is almost universally condemned by those who don’t want children to be indoctrinated against their positions. But I don’t think indoctrination can or should have the bad rap given it by fervent opponents of religious indoctrination such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Arguably most childhood education in areas of history and even many areas of science smacks of indoctrination in one form or another.
Given its unavoidable necessity, I have started to take indoctrination of my own children more seriously. My kids are indoctrinated Mormons, their skeletons come from church. They have a surface-level, Sunday-school understanding of the church, salvation, and the righteous life. But because I am no longer what can be fairly called a believing Mormon, I want to temper this indoctrination with indoctrination of my own–one that reflects the understanding I have developed in my spiritual life and education. I am trying to find a way to explain Christianity differently without closing the lines of inquiry that I find critical. I want to add a few limbs to my kids’ conceptual skeletons without making their existing frameworks useless.
So, my project is to develop simple, short, easy-to-understand narratives of important historical events and religious principles- sort of like the Gospel Principles Manual in the LDS Church. Something that can give my children a place to start inquiry based roughly on what I think are proper conclusions about history and the world; a different narrative to expand and allow critical evaluation of the narrative they receive in church.