Education v. Indoctrination

In just a few weeks I will begin my junior year of college at the University of Houston. I am extremely excited to start working on my major and so glad to be done with my basics. As I pause to think about all the wonderful professors I have had up until now, the ones that stand out are those who have pushed me personally and academically. All of them were/are educators so dedicated to their crafts that you could not help but be interested in what they said. I recognize that I am simply a beneficiary of their hard work, and for that I am grateful. But as I sit here and contemplate the past couple years there is one professor who imparted such wisdom that I am compelled to share. That man was Dr. Brooker (or “Dr. B” as we called him).

Dr. B was an older conservative Professor who by the time I encountered him had taught Public Policy, Political Science, Economics, and related courses at some of the top colleges in the country. Having worked in both the private and public sectors he had real-world expertise that complemented his intellect. Although having been in academia for years he did not let his tenure get in the way of his student’s learning. It is not that often that a professor allows his students to challenge him openly, and often loudly in his class. Yet, Dr. B not only allowed it, he encouraged it! Many of his repeat students were not shy to test him, and overtime as I became more comfortable, I just could not help myself. The timing of this class is relevant, in that I was just now discovering the world of politics. Growing up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was taught to remain neutral in “worldly” political affairs. As I walked into Dr. B’s class, I was walking out of that way of life. Whether he knew it or not, Dr. B was helping me find my political footing. 

At the beginning of the semester we took a political compass test and I happened to fall amongst the Libertarian sector. Dr. B and I were quite similar in some respects (where Freedom was concerned). But over the weeks to come he and I would often disagree strongly on issues of Economic and Social concern. During class debates you would often see Dr. B sit back onto his desk and smile as we battled it all out. 

In total, I took both of his classes over the span of a year and a half. It was exciting to hear his lectures about political paradigms and to hear his stories of election campaign drama. But I enjoyed his final lecture most of all… which I want to share with you. On the last day of class, having built off the momentum he created in earlier weeks, he dove into the topic of “Education v. Doctrine.”

Dr. B described indoctrination as belief without examination. He explained that sometimes we do this out of ignorance. Meaning, we may never think to question someone or something. Other times we may shy away from differing perspectives. Dr. B proposed that we may do this because we realize how fragile our internal beliefs are. By choosing to avoid new thought we save ourselves from harsh new realities and the pain of being wrong.

He then went on to describe what it means to be educated. Education (specifically around ideology and belief) involves teaching someone about the positives and the negatives surrounding an idea. The result of a proper education means an individual can not only accurately communicate and explain themselves, but they can also process challenges to their ideas. Dr. B told us that a useful way to do this is to learn to separate oneself from the idea in question; we had to learn to objectify and maneuver around concepts almost as if they held physical space. When an individual did this, he told us, only then did they hold the power to truly decide if the idea is worth their subscription. And, if they no longer feel the need to believe something, by the same means can they shed old beliefs and grow. “Sticking true to yourself” is not synonymous with rigidity. He reminded us that through lifelong education we could grow and evolve.

Although Dr. B centered this lecture around politics, I believe the principles found therein are useful for all aspects of life. I had finally found words to describe what I experienced growing up. Even from an early age, I recognized the oddity of not questioning things. His words highlighted my preexisting biases and helped me identify areas of improvement in my life. I remember asking myself, “How was it that someone I so passionately disagreed with; I could also learn from?” His classes were an introduction into the world of dialectics and empathy, something I believe to be lacking in the world today.

I share this in hopes that you too will benefit. I hope we can all examine our beliefs, even if only for a second. Because to be indoctrinated means in some way we are refusing to grow. This refusal stifles creativity and ultimately hinders innovation. Only through exposing ourselves to new thought will we grow as people, and as a society.