I Guess I’ll Sit Around And Indoctrinate

I must admit that as a reader early on in life I progressed very early to literature that was very serious.  Still, various reasons have kept me from time to time reading and appreciating literature written to and about young people.  At some level at least I am a child at heart and I figure that I always will be for various reasons which I do not wish to discuss here.  Even so, in reading children’s literature, from time to time I come up with interesting insights based on what I read.  Even compared to most writing as a whole, children’s literature is heavily didactic.  While there is a great deal of purpose in the writing of anything that most people are unaware of, when it comes to writings aimed at children [1], there is an element of indoctrination in some fashion that is almost always present.  It is extremely rare to find examples of writing for children that are simply for entertainment without any attempt at presenting some sort of viewpoint or perspective as valid and worth imitation and adoption.  Whether or not the literature aimed at children is directly focused on education or amusement, there is almost always some sort of hidden layer of motive and agenda attached to it, and whether it is good or not depends on whether those motives are shared by the reader.

One factor plays a large role in this, and that is the fact that for most people, childhood (and early adulthood in college/university) is the only time in one’s life that most people ever read, and much of that reading is not by choice but by fiat.  Since children and young adults are a captive audience–literally and figuratively speaking–who are instructed to read certain books chosen by their teachers, those who write books in hopes that these books will be required often have a high degree of ambition in trying to teach a lesson to children through these books.  After all, that is one of the main purposes for children being instructed to read books, and that is to be indoctrinated from a voice that is different from one’s teachers but which ultimately gives the same message that the teacher is trying to convey.  The sort of books that one is told to read therefore is emblematic of the sort of worldview that teachers possess and the sort of messages that they want to indoctrinate others to read.

I will speak of my own experience here.  At least during high school and college I became aware that there was a lot of literature that had some clear ulterior motives.  I had to read the poems of the suicidal Sylvia Plath, a great deal of decadent Latin American writing by authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende, and a few short novels like The Awakening that attempted to portray godly character and loyalty to one’s spouse in a bad light.  Examples like this could be added to by looking at the reading I had to undertake in college, which sometimes explicitly looked at the sociopolitical layers of works and had various perspectives of their own to share that I frequently found loathsome and unacceptable, and still do.  For me personally, my experience with the indoctrination element of literature aimed at young people or that was used to instruct young people was a very negative one that led me to be very critical of the political worldviews of those who were clumsily attempting the indoctrination.  Obviously, had my teachers been people whose moral and religious and political worldviews I shared, I would have felt less upset about the indoctrination because I would have already been fond of that worldview that they were teaching me in.  I would think, for example, that this would be the case in home school curricula that I am not familiar with from my own experience, but I will let others tell of their own experiences there.

Even where there is no deliberate attempt at indoctrination, there are plenty of indirect attempts that happen through the encouragement of reading in general.  Programs like the Book-It program that led me to eat many personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut during my youth encourage reading among children, and doing so tends to encourage children to read books that can be found in the classroom, in the school library, and in the public library system.  As might be imagined, these books frequently represent the worldview of the people who stock these books.  I can say with some confidence that my home library reflects my own personal worldview in that it contains a great many books on Christian theology and apologetics as well as books on military history, Esperanto, and other subjects.  There are plenty of books that I have read and that I own that I do not particularly like, but they are books that at least reflect my general worldview and concerns.  Unsurprisingly, many of these books cannot be found in many libraries because they are not the sort of things that are of interest to public school teachers and left-leaning civil servants in a place like the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, where I live.  If children are incentivised to read, their limited transportation capabilities will mean that their reading will have to be based on those books which are readily available, and unless their families take an interest in reading, they will largely read from what is around them, and a lot of that will have some messages that have to be dealt with.

What can be learned from this?  Ultimately, the fact that children are taken to be a naive and accepting audience means that those who write to children will often write with more in mind than what is openly admitted.  Teaching and instruction are not only matters of explicit instruction but also matters of implicit modeling as to what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable, what approaches are desirable or undesirable, what attitudes and actions are commanded, permitted, and forbidden.  To some extent this learning process never ends, although it is done more openly as one gets older.  The general fact that children are an audience that one is deliberately instructing does mean that there is a great deal of interest on the part of people to get their message read and accepted by children in the hope that these messages can influences large masses of people for generations to come.  Not all of these messages are worthy of acceptance, or even toleration, much less endurance.  All too often it is a wicked hand that rocks the cradle or that seeks to influence the classroom.  Such is the world in which we live.

[1] See, for example:







About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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