Friday, March 15, 2013

On Indoctrination of Children - Proverbs 22:6

In the comments section of my previous blog post on 30Stream of Consciousness Truths, my friend Ruthy left me this comment:

“Thanks for this, Jami. I think the one I'll work on today is: be the person you want to be in 30 years, today.

I'd be interested in more of your thoughts regarding the "indoctrination of children." This may be a simple matter of word choice, but my understanding of the word indoctrination implies that the pupil is meant understand without question (as opposed to to instruction or inculcation which, to my mind, leaves room for a lot of questioning, critical reasoning, and personal insight or revelation”

Dear Ruthy, 

I’m glad your interest was piqued by my word choice. Thanks for commenting about it. I’m happy to elaborate for you, with this blog post! :)
My choice of the verb “indoctrinate” was intentional. First off, I’ve started getting the Merriam-Webster dictionary word of the day emails lately, and just last week one of the words was “indoctrinate.” I discovered something about the word that I didn’t know before I got that email, that I will share now:

“Indoctrinate” simply means “brainwash” to many people. But its meaning isn’t always so negative. When this verb first appeared in English in the 17th century, it simply meant “to teach” – a meaning that followed logically from its Latin root. The “doc” in the middle of “indoctrinate” derives from the Latin verb “docēre,” which also mean “to teach.” Other offspring of “docēre” include “docent” (referring to a college professor or a museum guide), “docile,” “doctor,” “doctrine,” and “document.” It was not until the 19th century that “indoctrinate began to see regular use in the sense of causing someone to absorb and take on certain opinions or principles.
So, when distilled to its roots, the term does not actually have a negative connotation. Docents are wise, doctors can help to heal, doctrine is important. I think it is rather reflective of our culture that teaching a certain set of principles or doctrines is viewed in a negative light.

Over the course of the last year, I have noticed a distinct trend in parenting blogs and advice articles, and in the comments sections of those articles. It increasingly popular for parents to brag about how they are supporting free thinking in their children, by not instructing them in their own (or sometimes any) sort of belief system. If their son wants to dress up as a Princess and wear a tiara to school – who are they to tell him no? If a child is throwing a tantrum in a store – that’s just the way kids are. They are first and foremost their kids’ friend, not parent. And even though the parent(s) might personally hold a certain set of religious beliefs or ideas they will in no way tell their children that those are the right or true ideas. Every child should figure that out on their own, they say. They can come to their own truth. Which interestingly, very often leads children to believe that there is no truth at all.

These sorts of comments and ideas have bothered me, so I have spent some time studying and praying about those ideas. A very wonderful scripture came to me in studies: Proverbs 22:6. The scripture contains several layers of wisdom. 

Proverbs 22:6  says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

These words are first and foremost a commandment. They direct parents to actively do something. Train your children in the way they should go! This is not an isolated incidence of this commandment, either:

  • Doctrine and Covenants 93:40 “But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.”

  • President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “It is the duty of parents to teach their children these saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that they will know why they are to be baptized and that they may be impressed in their hearts with a desire to continue to keep the commandments of God after they are baptized, that they may come back into his presence. Do you, my good brethren and sisters, want your families, your children; do you want to be sealed to your fathers and your mothers before you … ? If so, then you must begin by teaching at the cradle-side. You are to teach by example as well as precept.” - Becoming Goodly Parents, By: Elder L. Tom Perry

  • From The Family: A Proclamation to the World it says,  “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”

Secondly, the scripture implies that parents are responsible to train their children, in the way they should go. We are all pretty well agreed that parents should instruct children in ways that prevent them from bodily harm, but unfortunately our culture has made it increasingly unpopular to instruct our children in ways that will protect them from spiritual harm. The “should” in Proverbs 22:6 tells us a great deal – there is a direction children should go. There is absolute truth – and I don’t think this scripture is referring to not touching hot stoves, though avoiding that would be wise. The fact that anybody every feels they “should” do something is a great evidence that there is a God. (See C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity for an awesome thought-provoking read on that subject.) As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we really do believe there is Truth! :) I recommend you check out this amazing talk by Oaks on Balancing Truth and Tolerance. It testifies that there is Everlasting and Eternal Truth, and gives some great practical suggestions on what that means in our interactions with others on a daily basis.

Thirdly, the proverbs scripture, also rings prophetic to me. It tells us that children will go in the direction they have been trained to go. So, if they have been instructed or trained to view all ideas as simply cultural h’orderves, all are different and no ideas more important that others, (but the variety sure is nice!) they will in fact believe and live as though there is no standard by which one should live and that all truth is objective. The prophetic words ring true around me in the words I hear others speak each day – our society is less and less convinced that there is any truth or Truth. I am often reminded of this quote from the Critical Reading course I took at BYU, where we discussed different critical approaches we can take with literature. Among them, was the critical approach of Deconstruction and Poststructuralism. Here’s one snippet from the chapter on Deconstruction: 

In The Pleasure of the Text (1973) Barthes actually defines pleasure as whatever exceeds a single meaning. As the space where flesh meets clothing arouses especially erotic responses, so the join, seam or flaw between various textures in a literary text gives the reader pleasure. The blissful text ‘unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, . . {and} brings a crisis to his relation with language. Ultimately, Barthes urges us to exchange ‘literature’ for writing – that is, for the reader’s creation. . . Barthes’s studies seek to engender multiple, excess meanings rather than to discover any true or original meaning. (The Critical Experience, David Cowles, pg.123) 

I share this to point out (oh, how Deconstructionist of me!) the excessive value we place on critical thinking in our culture, as an end in itself. While thought exercises where we suppose no truth at all can be a pleasurable experience and provide lots of creative, interesting ideas for us, it does us no good if our mind games bring us to incorrect conclusions, or if we play mind games with others just to watch them fall and feel uncomfortable. Ultimately we should value critical thinking because it can lead us to conclusions and actions based on truth. 

So, yes. It is VITAL that parent teach their children what is TRUE. Children are very impressionable. They generally believe what they are told. So, we should tell and show them what is true, unabashedly and with all our love, and all the conviction that we have. This does mean some risk, I realize. Parents are not perfect, they make mistakes – and lots of them! And not all parents teach good lessons (whether on purpose or accident.) But if not parents – then who? Our morally decaying society? Our broken public schools? Their misguided, unruly friends? No. Not my kids. I am teaching my children to have a resilient faith, that will be fortified by my diligent efforts to help them each recognize the voice of the Holy Ghost as He testifies of truth to their hearts so that the Truth will also find a treasured place in their hearts, forever

Choose whatever word to describe that experience that you like, but "it" is what I am doing. As a mother, to indoctrinate my children with truth, is my responsibility, my obligation, my privilege, and I will ultimately be held accountable for that – as will every other parent. And that’s the end of my rant! :)



  1. Love it! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Vanessa! :)

  2. I'll say it for the second time today:

    Thanks for this, Jami.

    I can tell you put a lot of prayer, thought, and research into that response (and it was much more than I would have demanded of you!)

    I couldn't agree more with your point about parents falling into the tempting trap of peerenting instead of parenting. And I second the import you place on a parent's responsibility to teach children the Truth, not just to leave them on their own to discover their own relativistic truth.

    Even though I can't totally shake my negative association with the "I word" in its modern connotation, it's good to know it hasn't/doesn't always equate a North Korean education. Haha

    You really got me thinking. Perhaps I place too high a premium on critical thinking for its own sake. ah! but it gives me so much pleasure that I can't imagine it as anything but one of the best gifts God gave us. I especially love when my bouts of borderline atheistic pondering and reflection lead me back around to greater spiritual confirmation and help me feel the love of God. (Seems backward, doesn't it?)

    I hope I can eventually be as confident and informed in my childhood education philosophy as you seem to be. However I decide to teach my kids about the gospel, I know I'm going to have to incorporate all those scriptural principles you brought up, along with this quote:

    “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”

    Good old TJ. Never gets old.

    1. I love that quote, Ruthy. And from a founding father no less! You know how to reach me. :) You really should read Mere Christianity if you haven't already. I bet you would love it. Here's one of my favorites from good old C.S. Lewis that has a similar flavor to the quote you shared: "The proper motto is not "Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever," but "Be good sweet maid, and don't forget that this involves being as clever as you can. God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than any other slackers."

      I want to reiterate lest I be misunderstood, that I am not against critical thinking. I do plenty of it every day. Truth be told, Squire is sometimes a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I often focus on reasoning so much about spiritual principles/commandments/etc. "God said so! That's the best reason." And it is. Though, I know from experience that God is a God of reason and there are patterns of His hand everywhere if we take the time to look, study and learn about His Principles and doctrines in faith. That is when His mysteries really begin to unfold before our eyes. So, I totally get your sentiment.

      I do however think there is always a difference between faithful questioning (critical thinking with purpose) and faithless doubting (critical thinking for its own sake). Additionally, there is a time and a season of questioning for every child. I believe they can face those tender thoughts and experiences that challenge their faith with surety and success if they have been instructed well, and have developed their own testimony through personal scripture study and through recognition of the Holy Ghost.

      My main point with this post, I hope you know, is not to dissuade critical thinking - but rather to suggest that it takes time for little ones to get there and we don't need to be shy with the truth we've found as they approach and pass through that stage. K. I'm stopping now before I write another blog post. Thanks for reading and commenting. I've really enjoyed thinking up, studying for, and writing this post. :) I wish we still lived close by and could chat about topics such as these over a yummy dinner. I hope you Stapletons are doing great.

  3. So, after this post I had to research a little on the history of this word. I came across this little tibby of post. Thought it had some merit.

    1. Haha! Great article! Very well-written. That's the perfect point about what teaching is - it has to come mainly from one perspective. Thanks for linking that article here, Amanda. I enjoyed it.

  4. The popular philosophy you mention here (allowing children to "come to their own truth") is still a philosophy ... and by teaching a child to not believe, they are in essence taught atheism. Why is it that atheism has taken such priority in our culture? It seems that the rights of those who wish not to be "restricted" by commandments are thought above the rights of those who gladly humble themselves to serve God.

    My children will be taught my religion. If they choose to not be a part of it at a later age (i.e. 18+), they will have the freedom to exercise their own agency. I believe, however, that by teaching my children the truths that I know, they will learn to do what is right. I wonder why any parent, believing that they possess truth, would withhold it from their child?

  5. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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