Education and Indoctrination: The Power of Kindness

A factory education

In a recent blog post Autumm Caines sketches a very brief, but telling, distinction between education and indoctrination:

What is the difference between education and indoctrination?…What sets them apart from one another?

Could it be the role of power, teacher, leader, knowledge, right etc. If these things/people are fixed and rigid it seems that they are easily pounded into us through repetition and harsh criticism of the other. This seems like prime soil for indoctrination in my mind.

…as I use it, education looks at multiple views and is critical…In my view education is at its heart kind and is honestly looking for truth realizing that truth flexes and changes depending on context. In my mind education is sensitive but please do not confuse this with weakness or fear.

We hope we are not being unkind (or not too unkind) in seeing an implication here: By being kind and sensitive and by seeing truths as multiple and local you lift yourself out of the nasty nexus of power and indoctrination. Indoctrination is what goes on elsewhere, within a fixed and rigid, unkind and insensitive system of power. As a kind, sensitive, pluralist educator, your hands are clean; you are not party to a process of indoctrination that perpetuates a system of power.

Has something been overlooked here: The possibility that the prevailing system of power might be perpetuated very nicely by kind and sensitive people who very kindly and sensitively prioritise personal concerns (making liberal use of the first-person singular pronoun in doing so, and carefully qualifying every possibly contentious statement with “in my mind,” “in my view,” “as I use it,” and so on)?

Autumm Caines’s post begins with a quote from Tom Robbins, which starts: “Reality is subjective…” The kind educationalist is supposed to be critical, but no occasion for criticism is seen in this subjectivist ontology. Reality is subjective. That’s just the way things are. Here, though, is a very questionable doctrine. And what is indoctrination if not the rather thoughtless insistence upon questionable doctrines? Is there not here an intimation of a kind and sensitive and pluralist form of indoctrination?

We live in a society with an unquestionable objectivity. To say, as Robbins does, that reality is subjective is to affirm a split between the subjective and the objective – between a private realm of meaning and a public realm in which the concern for meaning is absent. The idea of subjectivity that Robbins mentions is not merely an idea but a structural feature of the society we live in – a society organised around a particular kind of historically developing rift between the private and the public.

Business and the personal, the subjective

To say that reality is subjective is to say that the normative truths important for our lives are essentially personal matters. Inevitably, this goes hand in hand with the idea of a public realm organised independently of such normative truths. Something independent of those personal values must act as the mediator between such a contradictory plurality of life goals. What on earth could help coordinate such a confused plurality of personal projects? Money, of course. Hence, the kind and sensitive suggestion of a subjective reality unwittingly functions as an affirmation of a social order dominated by unkind and insensitive commercial considerations – the very order of power that we live under.

Provisional conclusion: We need to be as critical of our kindness as we are of other people’s harshness.

written by Torn Halves on May 4, 2016 in education and pedagogy with no comments