Indoctrinating: It’s Not Just Them … It’s You Too!

“Indoctrination” is a pointed word saddled with a soft clarity. Its definition fills several gray spaces, each one overlapping but each its own. Consider these similar yet dissimilar definitions of “indoctrination”:

  • the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.
  • the process of inculcating a person with ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or professional methodologies
  • to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.
  • the process of repeating an idea or belief to someone until they accept it without criticism or question.

Overlapping (for the most part) yet slightly askew from one definition to the next. Nuances can be seen in the words:

  • “uncritically”
  • “inculcating” (i.e., to instill by persistent instruction)
  • “partisan or sectarian”
  • “repeating”

Despite these nuances, “indoctrination” gets tossed around with unbending certainty. In terms of use, “indoctrination” is a well-defined and steadfast brick. I work at a small, Christian college, and as the chief social media strategist, the word “indoctrination” constantly crashes through my window. It’s a broad, biased brick, and the people who throw it, they throw limply at what they do not know. Even worse, their brickwork suffers a blinding hypocrisy.

Your Assumption Is Your Indoctrination

I assume you’ll backtrack to “small, Christian college” and make the leap that this is all coming from a “small-minded” (your indoctrinating word, not mine) conservative thinker. No sir, no ma’am … I’m not a “conservative thinker.” Yes, I have conservative leanings (pro-life, gun rights, national defense), but I have liberal leanings too (affirmative action, justice reform, affordable health care).

Without meeting me, you don’t know me, and any attempt to pigeon hole me is — to some degree — an extension of your own indoctrination. You judge from a distance, which, in my experience, is usually a snap judgement. And snap judgements, for the most part, are “uncritical” judgements.

The Mythical Classroom Indoctrinated

In the context of the “Christian college,” I see many snap judgements. In social media and from much of the public, there’s the snap judgement (i.e., a hurried or impetuous decision or finding) that the Christian college is a place of indoctrination … a caricature of rigid training, conservative trappings, and academic zombieism. From experience, I can tell you that this is both a fantasy and (to some degree) propaganda … the same broad-stroked propaganda and shallow cacophony that paints Berkeley and Stanford as cults of liberalism.

Of course, I’m not so naïve. I recognize that in some classrooms and from some professors, ideology can inoculate discussion, and bias can bleed into curriculum … i.e., a politicizing of subjects that should be impartial. This, however, is: 1) universal to all universities, and 2) subject to the backlash of young (free) thinkers. Regarding the latter, the act of “indoctrination” doesn’t necessarily output the “indoctrinated.” To reach cult status, one must have cult followers, and a classroom of young thinkers (left-leaning or right-leaning) isn’t necessarily a classroom of weak-minded, obedient sucklings.

An Ideological Boogeyman Takes Many Forms

For those railing against the cult of indoctrination, circumspection prevents a true assessment of one’s own self. If indoctrination befalls “them” — the conservatives or the religious — it equally befalls other establishments, other voices, other hypnotic things … liberal, political, and indoctrinating, things that hold sway over the uncritical mind (i.e., inculcating, partisan, and repeating).

Again, I’m not here as a “conservative” thinker nor as a member any party machine (FYI … I’m a registered Independent); I’m simply here to point out the encompassing reach of indoctrination, its misuse as slander, its secret acceptance on both sides of the aisle. Basically, the universal hypocrisy of today’s thought police.

As mentioned, the thought police victimize conservatism and religion as an easy (and lazy) sacrifice to “indoctrination.” However, this same policing refuses to indict the indoctrination of — for example — entertainment. This is because entertainment (unlike the conservative, Christian college) doesn’t lend well to an ideological boogeyman. Despite this, entertainment can be blatantly and unapologetically indoctrinating.

The Entertaining of Indoctrinating

If conservatism and religion must suffer the accusation of indoctrination, then so too must our laugh factory. Dogma hides well as humor (whereas religion is patently dogmatic). For example, in the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, several jokes dogmatically celebrated President Trump’s Covid diagnosis:

President Trump is in the hospital with Covid… and my heart goes out to Covid.Chris Rock

To some … funny. To others … in poor taste. Either way … indoctrinating. A liberal joke is still a liberal sermon or a liberal credo. Place Rock in a pulpit and change “Trump” to “Biden” … now you have your conservative boogeyman. But when you place Rock on stage, clothe him in humor, and add laughter, you insulate indoctrination as “entertainment.”

But if Rock’s “joke” is too subtle, then how about something more blatant. Recently, Late Night’s Seth Meyer said:

Defeating Trump is the first and most urgent step of fixing our economy and restoring our democracy. … We have the power to repudiate Trump in November.

The truth of this statement is irrelevant because regardless of truth, it’s indoctrinating. Truth has no bearing on the “process of inculcating a person with ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or professional methodologies” And because it comes from a celebrity (no different than John Oliver or Trevor Noah), this “process of inculcating” rings authoritative and sanctioned, holy in its evangelism. It is, without argument, a one-sided voice from the Volkshalle, an indoctrination garbed as commentary.

Indoctrination: A Two-Way Word

Do you still think this is a political argument?

Don’t let your self-indoctrination fool you.

I’m not taking a political side in any debate. Yes, the above leans more heavy against one party, but I’m trying to balance the scales, to expose the weight/counter-weight of indoctrination.

I’ve mentioned the conservative, Christian college, which many — without research or investigation — will brand an “indoctrination factory.” It’s not. Free thinking — i.e., political choices, societal debates, sides taken on the issues — abound on campus. The framework may be conservative and Christian, but the groundswell is personal and individual.

Despite this truth, people — lazy people who refuse to look closer, who reject inquiry in favor of bias — continue to accuse the Christian college, the Christian professor, the Christian student of indoctrination. At arm’s length and with eyes wide shut, it’s easy to make this accusation, to fit a desperate bias into a depthless stereotype. Yes, there are some who indoctrinate (you’ll find this at any college), but it’s far — very far — from any institutional perversion.

But if one must persist in this folklore, then one cannot play favorites. Because in our world, indoctrination is everywhere, a tool of the left and a tool of the right. For those who see so “clearly” in adjudging the right, there must be a clear and equal adjudication of the left … that is, an honest assessment of Meyer’s preaching to defeat* and Rock’s sermon on the humor** of one man’s illness.

* To reiterate, truth is not a defense to indoctrination. This isn’t “slander,” where truth is a defense. In the process of teaching, inculcating, imbuing, repeating, truth plays no part. And while I agree with many of the truths against Trump, this doesn’t lessen my sense of the indoctrination against him (i.e., being told what to think and what to do).

** The clap-back here will be that Trump, like Rock, mocks sensitive things. Well, if you think two wrongs make a right, then I guess your argument works.

Originally published at



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Travis Burchart

Social media expert, higher education advocate, writer, Founding Fathers fan, lawyer in a past life