Parents and educators who are concerned with the Christian education of our young people need to know the beneficial effects of education over indoctrination.
Indoctrination is the communication of non-evidence supported beliefs that the receiver is expected to accept without any questioning or argumentation. For instance, it is snowing today. I tell the person I am trying to indoctrinate that it is not snowing, that what they see is an illusion. He or she cannot question my authority and partisan point of view. In effect, I am brainwashing and gaslighting that person.
I see on the internet pictures of ISIS preparing boys for battle as young as four or five against their perceived enemy. These boys even wear military-style clothing and learn to handle and use guns. They are being given cocktails of drugs, superstition, false religion, and violence to make them killers.
Contrary to indoctrination, John Elias in his Psychology and Religious Education writes:
Education is teaching; it is not indoctrination or preaching. It is not propagandizing or manipulating. Education respects the freedom of the student. It presents as certain truth that which is believed to be the truth. It shows the options available and presents differences of opinion if they exist are significant. Education is concerned with the entire person: mind, body, spirit, and character. It is concerned with both thought and emotions. It is not limited to schooling, but is a lifelong process. (p.6)
What then is religious education? It is everything that education is—and also more. Religious education attempts to educate a person to a religious view of life. It should present various religious views and even present non-religious views of life. It should respect the freedom of others to accept or reject our religious point of view. Even though we may have very strong Christian convictions, beliefs, and commitments, we should not force anyone to believe as we do.
Every attempt should be made to have our children and adults question our beliefs, to voice their disbelief, and be aware of and grapple with the inconsistencies that appear in the Bible and in everyday life. Our job as a parent and/or teacher is to anticipate the stumbling blocks on their road to faith. There are no textbook answers to their doubts and questions. All we can do is help guide them to figure things out for themselves. Do not be afraid to voice your own beliefs on certain matters, how you struggled to arrive at an understanding, and how time and experience may cause you to adjust your present understanding in the future. Only through personal understanding of our religious beliefs and personal struggle with our doubts can we come to enjoy the conviction necessary to make a thoughtful commitment to God.
Perhaps Jesus taught in parables so that listeners had to struggle with the meaning and purpose of his parables to gain insight to what he was about. Take for instance Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Who would you say is indoctrinated and who is educated? What makes you think so?
Religious education should be rooted in knowledge, but knowledge alone is insufficient. Additionally, we need to accept God’s grace and use it wisely. Since we are endowed with the ability to think, you and your children should use this gift as you navigate your spiritual journey in life.
The church school and church are only two sources for the Christian education of our children. Families, too, must bear responsibility for the Christian education of their children, especially in the home.