Books, ideas, and knowledge are not inherently dangerous.
Political control of education, books, ideas, and knowledge, however, is likely the end of individual freedom as we know it, and which we claim to embrace.
Republicans have now fully committed to banning books, censorship, and mandating what can and cannot be taught in all levels of formal education.
Ironically, there are some dangerous books for Republicans: George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
These are cautionary tales about totalitarian governments, book banning and censorship, and theocracies. Yet, Republicans have apparently misread them as how-to manuals.
It is also important to recognize that Republicans have sought to control the teaching of history since banning novels is merely attacking imagined worlds.
Again, Republicans appear to have completely misunderstood what history is, why history is taught, and something that has now become nearly cliche to express: Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
Consider the language and justification for book bans and burnings here:
At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged and “unwanted” books onto bonfires with great ceremony, band-playing, and so-called “fire oaths.” In Berlin, some 40,000 persons gathered in the Opernplatz to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: “No to decadence and moral corruption!” Goebbels enjoined the crowd. “Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, Erich Kästner.”Holocaust Encyclopedia
If we sanitize the past—as Republicans demand in the name of objectivity—we find ourselves banning books and ideas in the name of protecting children and “morality.”
If we pay attention to Orwell, for example, we recognize that the Nazi’s were using “decency and morality” as a cover for totalitarian aims.
And then, when Republicans claim to be against politicizing education and indoctrination, we must recognize they are actually politicizing education and seeking indoctrination:
Most of us, especially on the left, completely agree with a sincere charge that “a university should not involve political indoctrination,” and therefore, we would be forced to point out that Florida and other Republican-led states are rushing to create exactly that—universities that are nationalistic and Christian-based political indoctrination.
It would behoove Republicans (most of whom have university degrees and ironically disprove their own claims that colleges brainwash students into being “woke” zombies) to sit in on any of my courses.
Republicans have a really hard time with words and concepts, especially the ones they are most angry about; they routinely cannot define the concepts they seek to control and ban—”CRT,” “woke,” and even “free.”
You see, education is not indoctrination because education is mostly about how to navigate knowledge, discourse, and the world—not about endorsing or embracing any predetermined set of ideas or ideologies.
For example, consider if a student expresses the two following brief claims:
“I do not believe in evolution because I do not think humans came from monkeys.”
“I believe God created humans because of my Christian faith.”
In an education setting (putting aside concerns for what the course may be), what would be appropriate responses to these claims by the teacher?
The first should be challenged—not because the student rejects evolution but because the claim is sloppy (scientific theory is not something to “believe” or not) and it makes an implication that incorrectly defines evolution (evolution is a theory, thus proven with evidence, that never claims humans “came from monkeys”).
Therefore, that first claim fails to fully and correctly define terms in order to make evidence-based claims, which has nothing to do with whether or not the student personally accepts evolution as a concept.
The second claim, of course depending on whether or not it is relevant to the course objectives, is completely solid, making no false implications and drawing a reasonable conclusion. Again, the credibility of that second claim has nothing to do with what the teacher believes (or not) and certainly isn’t in any way related to wanting a student to believe or not in any supreme being.
Rhetorically and logically the second statement is far more valid in an education setting than the first. The ideologies of the student and teacher are, therefore, irrelevant to how these fit into the student being educated (and not indoctrinated).
More complicated is whether these claims are relevant in specific fields of knowledge such as biology and religion; students well educated learn that field-based claims are not necessarily in conflict but based on different ways of thinking and knowing.
The first may be better suited for biology, and the second, for religion, but as the liberal arts embraces, these both may be better examined in a full range of disciplines and ideologies that understand science and religion as complimentary, not adversarial.
Faith-based people can understand evolution, of course, but those different ways of knowing may create tension in a person’s journey to understanding the world as a free person.
Education often involves and even requires discomfort, something Republicans seek to eliminate as part of their indoctrination package.
The problem facing the US, of course, is that Republicans cannot fathom a place where the human mind is trusted, where education is the goal and indoctrination is genuinely rejected.
Republicans can only envision people with power indoctrinating those over whom they have power so they are seeking complete control of education-as-indoctrination.
As I have noted often, those of us on the left were likely compelled to that ideological viewpoint because critical pedagogy (grounded in Marxism) is antithetical to indoctrination. As my all-too-brief mentor Joe Kincheloe explains, “Critical pedagogy wants to know who’s indoctrinating whom.”
I have been teaching across five decades, and I have never demanded that a student accept or endorse any ideologies or concepts. I have repeatedly offered challenges to students’ assumptions and worldviews in order for them to fully understand and live with whatever they choose to believe and accept.
Can students fully and accurately define the concepts and words they use? Can students make claims and draw conclusions baed on credible evidence or logic?
Nothing more nefarious or sinister than that.
Like Emerson and Thoreau, I believe in and trust the human mind when it is free of indoctrination, fear, and coercion.
I believe in the possibility of humans who have critically challenged themselves and the assumptions of their families, their communities, and their countries.
I believe in the beauty and power of the human imagination—often found in books, art, and all sorts of creations that bring us to tears, laughter, doubt, wonder, and a whole host of emotions that make us fully human.
And I know deep into my bones that “only cowards ban books” and ideas because cowards are seeking ways to hold onto their power or control over any and everyone else.
There can be no human dignity or freedom without a free mind, and a free mind deserves an education that is grounded in academic freedom and open access to all the possibilities found in books and lessons that cannot be mandated by or restricted by mere government (political) mandate.
Small-minded Republicans are the sort of cowards Orwell, Bradbury, and Atwell—among millions of others—have warned us about.
Cowards and bully politics are seeking an IndoctriNation that a free people must not allow.