Conservative media is portraying public schools as indoctrination camps. They pejoratively call them “government schools” while continuing their attack on civics teachers and librarians. They make so many factually incorrect statements that no one has enough time to research and contradict them all. Suffice it to say, where the right-wing critics see indoctrination camps, I see public education’s critical role in our society, which involves teaching students to think for themselves and develop problem-solving skills that will serve them well in their future.
Where they see indoctrination, I see independent thought. Public schools don’t hand out answers to students, they encourage students to question and reach for the answer; thus, problem-solving and critical-thinking are integral parts of most curricula and everyday learning. Of course, problem-solving involves developing good research techniques; therefore, students learn things many adults did not learn in school, such as: formal research techniques, inductive thinking, how to identify connections, solve problems, and the ability to assess the quality of information sources (e.g., how to spot biased/faulty information). Public education doesn’t tell students WHAT to think, it teaches them HOW to think for themselves.
Where they see “indoctrination of our youth with controversial, ideological concepts,” I see that schools are finally teaching the truths about institutional racism and the power of identity. These are truths that ALL of our students deserve to hear, regardless of their race or ethnicity. If students are given the truth about the continued impacts of racism on our educational system, legal system, and financial system, then they can choose to help right those wrongs in the future through knowledge, power, and reform.
Of course, teaching U.S. history has always been controversial–the cycle of whether curricula are “anti-American” is well-documented. Nevertheless, I think much of the current controversy results from the fact that older generations learned a completely different history than is taught today…Lost Cause, anyone? Older generations, including my own, were indoctrinated to believe that our country could do no wrong, while today’s generation is learning U.S. history that includes both success and failure. Unfortunately, it turns out that history curriculums vary widely across the country, so that some states barely mention historically significant topics like slavery or the civil rights movement, which means many students are still learning partial or questionable U.S. history.
Ironically, the loudest critics of public education rarely have any stake in the schools: they didn’t attend, nor do their children attend these schools that they criticize so heavily. Some of the loudest critics of public schools, like Betsy DeVos, come from faith-based schools. At least faith-based schools are brutally honest about their intent to religiously indoctrinate their students. That is their right; however, those who attack our public schools while sending their children to religious schools should be honest about where indoctrination is truly occurring. Others, like Florida Governor Ron Desantis are pushing curriculums that fully intend to indoctrinate students to an older white-washed version of history that is founded on “God-given rights” versus U.S. history, warts and all.
From the first day to the last day of school, our public schools work to foster independence in students. Whether that is independence of thought or action, educators and staff encourage students to move toward being thoughtful, educated adults who are as prepared for their next steps as any 18 year old can be.
We must continue to protect independence of thought and action as a cornerstone of public education. Independence is not indoctrination.