The fine line between parenting and Indoctrination

Iwas 10 years old and in the fifth grade at a Catholic school. My stepmom worked at the Natural History Museum, and I tagged along with her on most Saturdays as a volunteer. I took piano and guitar lessons, and I wrote my first speech for the local 4-H competition. It was a time of discovery and learning new things. Mainly, I was learning about myself. Then, a school confrontation aimed at squashing my curiosity changed me.

Parents make a lot of choices for their children based on their family and cultural values. For some, this means paying for their child to go to private school where religion is incorporated into the classroom. For others, it means making sure their child learns to play a musical instrument and is exposed to the arts.

Indoctrination is a word that gets thrown around a lot lately in educational spaces, and it could potentially be argued that no matter what choices parents make on their child’s behalf, there is some level of indoctrinating happening.

The pushback for me is when adults cross the line from introducing children to certain values and helping them figure out who they are, to telling a child something about them is wrong.

Young children are more likely to take what you say at face value. But as kids grow and have questions it’s how trusted adults foster their curiosity, or not. That’s where indoctrination comes into play.

Do we offer information while also encouraging a child to find more information to examine a topic and figure out what they think? Or do we tell them the answers as we see them and expect them to accept that as their truth, too?

Our family had a subscription to National Geographic and the November 1985 issue had a huge impact on me. The holographic cover depicted a human skull that was over a million years old, and the cover read “The Search for Early Man.” At the museum with my stepmother, I had seen exhibits about Paleolithic man and other early humans, and I was eager to learn more. I took my copy of National Geographic to school to share with my class. I especially wanted to share the cool center spread that showed the evolution of man over time.

My teacher pulled me aside and told me to keep it in my backpack. I could not share it with the class or with my classmates, and she said, “good Catholic girls don’t read National Geographic.”

I was embarrassed, ashamed and instantly felt out of place. My enthusiasm drained. My scientist stepmother had encouraged me to read and share. I didn’t understand why this information was denied at school, a supposed place of learning.

I soon began pretending to be sick and resisted going to school. The only parts of school I liked were all school-adjacent activities like singing at church, playing guitar for mass on Sunday and getting to write speeches for the 4-H competition being held at school. I only really had one other student I could call my friend. I didn’t feel like I fit in.

I continuously fought with my dad about having to go to school until one day, I just flat-out refused and didn’t speak to him for days. I had shut down. I was done.

My parents transferred me to a public school. I would not go to Catholic school like my older siblings. Changing schools did not erase all of my adolescent angst but it allowed me to find my people and develop a sense of belonging. My parents did right by me in their decision to yank me out of private school.

Once I had shown my Catholic school teachers something important to me and I was rejected, I could no longer face the day with people who did not allow me to bring my whole self to school.

Our kids need our guidance, yes, but they also need the space to learn and thrive and celebrate who they are and share what is important to them. When I read about indoctrination in educational spaces, I think of my 1985 National Geographic.


Check out Bonnie’s weekly YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/bonniejeanfeldkamp.


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