In last week’s entry (The Gift of Failure), we noted that parents who enable and indulge their children create adults who are largely helpless to meet coping challenges as adults. These victims of childhood overindulgence must avoid failure at all costs because they are not equipped to handle it; they have never been taught how. In adulthood, some become overbearing, domineering bullies so they can hide their fear of failure. Others, feeling helpless and isolated, turn to cult groups and surrender their free will by pledging allegiance to the group’s beliefs, standards, and values.
Any way you look at it, when parents raise their children to believe that they are special and immune from accountability for their actions, they are indoctrinating their children. At its simplest, indoctrination means teaching a person to accept – uncritically – a set of beliefs. There are no ifs, ands, or buts – what is taught is an absolute, the way things are, and the way things should be. In this case, the child is trained in a type of solipsism by being reminded repeatedly that they can do no wrong; they are the main ingredient in the recipes of life; they are immune from failure; and when failure does occur, it is because of the intervention of some other group – the enemy – that wants to defeat them.
Young people readily accept this “teaching.” It is comfortable for them. There is security in believing, and being able to proclaim, “I am in charge; I am superior; I can only lose if you cheat. You are my enemy and you need to be cast aside as irrelevant.” Notice how indoctrination is based on fear, insecurity, and psychological instability: You must accept this reality or you will be defeated by others who are out to get you and destroy your way of living. And who are these others? Candidates are chosen from a long list: those of a different race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, political philosophy, religion, etc., etc., etc.
Some parents, however, choose a different childrearing path for their children. Instead of indoctrinating their kids to the parents’ way of thinking – which indoctrinating parents do to strengthen their belief that they are good parents – they choose to educate their children and produce independent thinkers. This is a difficult path for both parents and their children because while it builds healthy levels of self-esteem, it is also full of disappointment, discomfort, frustration, aggravation, and, yes, failure.
Education challenges children to learn about new things. This learning often requires discarding mistaken ideas, developing tolerance when offended, and facing the fact that their perspective is not necessarily superior to other ones. Education requires them to accept the fact that to improve, they must learn more; it requires them to get outside of themselves and be open to new sources of information; education requires them to exercise critical thinking by questioning and researching the validity of things that they read and hear. Education produces discomfort, complexity, and challenges to the belief that, “I am the primary ingredient in the recipe.”
In general, education is a type of productive and effective coping with stress. It requires you to accept real and verifiable facts, to be accountable for your opinions and attitudes, to follow a critical-thinking plan when confronted with a challenge, and to avoid becoming excessively dependent on a dictatorial guru who would convince you that his way is your only way.
In short, indoctrination is an emotion-based platform for dealing with stress; education, on the other hand, is a problem-based platform. Danny, 14 years old, asks his mother, “Did my friend Billy get autism by being vaccinated when he was a baby?” His mom replies, “Absolutely. His mother had him vaccinated when he was 2-years-old. Right after that, he started behaving strange. There’s no doubt why he got autism.” That’s an emotion-based answer. A problem-based answer would be something like, “Doctors and scientists have done a lot of research and shown that vaccines do not cause autism. It can get complicated, but we can go online and find examples that you might understand. For example, does it make sense that thousands of babies receive vaccinations, but only a much smaller number become autistic?”
Emotion (indoctrination) vs. Cognition (education) – which process works best for evaluating reality? Indoctrination declares homosexuality is evil and decadent; education proposes that people do not fall in love with a gender. Indoctrination affirms Christianity is the only religion; education shows that there are many religions that provide pathways to God. Indoctrination categorically states that Blacks are inferior to Whites; education presents data that when provided with equal environmental opportunities, Blacks can match Whites in achievement. Indoctrination preaches the earth is flat; education demonstrates how we know it is round.
How should you raise your children? The same way you should approach stress: Not by being indoctrinated into rigid and strict attitudes and actions; not by denial, distortion of facts, projection of your fears onto others, hypocrisy, prejudice, and other emotion-based strategies. The fact is, you will be a stronger person psychologically and emotionally when you acquire understanding of perspectives and people who differ from you; when practice empathy and humility; when you put self-preoccupation aside for honest and respectful communication with others; when you experience the essence of education.