The dangers of student indoctrination Skip to content

The dangers of student indoctrination

Nazis did it. Russians are doing it. Are we in the U.S. going to follow in their footsteps?

4 min read

While ‘indoctrinate’ originates from the Latin ‘docere’ which means ‘to teach,’ the modern version means ‘to teach only the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a certain group.’

One of the marks of fascism is the indoctrination of its citizens. And what better way to indoctrinate people than to start with the youth?

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, “The Nazi Party tried to extend its influence over all aspects of German society. The Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls were developed as Nazi Party youth groups to introduce children and juveniles to Nazi ideology and policy.”

The next step in the indoctrination of the young people was to revise the history and propaganda they were taught to fit the state-sponsored ideology.

Now, decades later, we are witnessing the same attempt to revise history to fit an ideology – except now it is our history that is being revised, and our young people being indoctrinated.

All United States citizens need to know the “good, bad, and ugly” in our history. As George Santayana famously said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Barbara F. Walter, who has studied civil wars, lists causal factors for a civil war threat in the US:

  • A growing influence of authoritarianism mixed in with democracy.
  • Groups that begin organizing, not around complex issues, but “almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity.”

As part of these trends, there is a Republican movement to silence those who want to know and teach the good and bad of our national experience. And it’s happening in state legislatures across the country, including our own.

According to a study at Pen America, educational gag orders increased 250 percent in 2022 compared to 2021. Thirty-six different states introduced 137 gag order bills in 2022, compared to 22 states introducing 54 bills in 2021. And while most educational gag orders continue to target teaching about race, a growing number are targeting LGBTQ+ identities.

Stephen Rohde, in an article in LA Progressive entitled “What do Republican lawmakers and the Russian education ministry have in common,” reports:

  • A dozen Republican-led states are seeking to ban or limit how the role of slavery and pervasive effects of racism can be taught.
  • Idaho was the first state to sign into law a measure that would withhold funding from schools that teach such lessons on racism.
  • Texas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee have bills that would ban teaching about the enduring legacies of slavery and segregationist laws, or that any state or the country is inherently racist or sexist.

Rohde then describes a bill in the Texas house that would “limit teacher-led discussions of current events; prohibit course credit for political activism or lobbying, which could include students who volunteer for civil rights groups; and ban teaching of The 1619 Project, an initiative by The New York Times that aims to reframe U.S. history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.”

In Kentucky, Dr. Bill Mulligan, retired history professor at Murray State University, states, “Like many people I have been increasingly upset by the actions of the Republican super majority in the Kentucky legislature. They are mandating indoctrination [Teaching American Principles Act] into a version of US History that eliminates and belittles non-whites and, to a lesser extent, non-Protestant Christians from OUR history. It is beyond dangerous.”

Continues Mulligan: “Partisanship is destroying us and preventing addressing too many real issues. We must affirm the importance of the contributions all Americans and their contribution to our country and its history. We must tell the whole story, warts and all, so we do not repeat our failings and move towards our goal. We must have substantive, fact-based history rather than a comfortable celebration that does not reflect reality.

“I have a deep and abiding faith in decency of the American people. These are ideas that need to be expressed, and here is the place and the time is now.”

However, a USA Today/Ipsos poll from September 2021 found that fewer than four-in-10 Republicans (38%) supported schools teaching about the ongoing effects of slavery.

If, as those Republicans suggest, we do not teach our entire history, what is the alternative? We can look to today’s Russia for the answer.

Under the headline “Putin’s Mission to Indoctrinate School children,”  Anton Troianovski, Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times reports that under a new law signed by Putin, “all Russian children will be encouraged to join a new patriotic youth movement in the likeness of the Soviet Union’s ‘Pioneers’ — presided over by Putin himself.”

“Starting in first grade, students across Russia will soon sit through weekly classes featuring war movies and virtual tours through Crimea. In addition to a regular flag-raising ceremony, they will be introduced to lessons celebrating Russia’s ‘rebirth’ under President Putin,” Troianovski reports. But “nowhere are these ambitions clearer than in the Kremlin’s race to overhaul how children are taught at Russia’s 40,000 public schools. ... And teachers generally have little choice but to comply with the new demands.”

In 1984, George Orwell wrote of a nation where “every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except the endless present in which the party is always right.”

And Orwell warned us, “Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present determines how those same people will view the past.”

If Republican State legislators or the Russian Education Ministry have their way, we will enter the future Orwell warned us about.

In the United States, it must be outspoken teachers, teacher unions, educational associations, university teacher preparatory programs, parents, responsible elected officials, and the rest of us who refuse to allow the indoctrination of our most precious resource – our children.


Written by John James Alexander, a pseudonym for a long-time Kentucky educator.

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