Chapter 6


In this chapter, I shall seek to apply a soft–presuppositionalist approach to a particular controversy within education theory – that of the distinction between education and indoctrination.   It would seem particularly relevant to do so since at least some of the content of the approaches to education outlined in the last chapter might well seem to some to be appropriately described as indoctrination rather than education.

I shall seek to show that the presuppositions underlying some of the discussions of the concept of indoctrination are not themselves neutral in relation to the basic beliefs that underlie a Reformed account of knowledge.   I shall also seek to show how the discussion is transformed if a different set of presuppositions is assumed.   I shall go on to attempt to argue for a particular kind of confessional approach to education.   In this way, I hope that looking again at the subject of indoctrination that received so much attention in the sixties and seventies will not simply be a rehearsal of tired old arguments but rather that the whole matter may be put in a new light and that I can make some positive proposals as a result.

The issue of indoctrination ranges across the whole field of educational theory including aims, content, method and evaluation.   It is relevant to the subject of the kind of institution that is appropriate to education.   Education can take place in the home as well as at school and so, presumably, can indoctrination.   This issue is also relevant to education throughout the whole age–range and brings into focus the differences between stages of development of the pupil or student.   And although it appears to be particularly relevant to certain curricular areas, e.g. religious, moral and political areas, it has implications for the whole curriculum.   So, although it might seem somewhat negative to give space to what could be taken as mere defence of an approach to education against charges of indoctrination, to focus upon this aspect is to deal with a fairly central issue with implications for the whole of the educational process.

Much discussion of the issue of indoctrination in the past has centred on alternative proposals for necessary and/or sufficient criteria for application of the concept.   The main candidates have been the ‘method’, ‘content’ and ‘intention’ criteria and I shall first examine the merits of each of these as they have been presented and as they could be seen in the light of the main themes of Reformed epistemology.


R. S. Peters and others have pointed out that ‘education’ is a term that can be applied to both tasks and achievements for, as he puts it, “educational practices are those in which people try to pass on what is worthwhile as well as those in which they actually succeed in doing so”.1   The same seems to apply to ‘teaching’ and to ‘indoctrination’  but since ‘success’ in the achievement of indoctrination in the pejorative sense of the term is, unlike that in education or teaching, an undesirable outcome, I shall be more concerned with criteria for the task sense.   That is, I shall be more concerned to ascertain what it is to indoctrinate a person than with what it is to have been indoctrinated.   By their very nature, method criteria can apply to indoctrination only as a task and not as an achievement.

It seems initially plausible to suggest that if a classroom activity is indoctrinatory, this is, at least in part, something to do with the kinds of methods that are being used.   In other words, it would seem possible to recognise that indoctrination is taking place without being aware of the teacher’s intentions and regardless of the content of the lesson.   Having said this, it is not at all easy to come up with an adequate definition of indoctrinatory method.

A version of a method criterion which provides a useful starting–point is the following suggested by Leslie Smith:

“… a person has been indoctrinated if, and only if, he has come to accept a belief in a non–rational way, if he is unable to assess the grounds on which that belief is based.”2

This purports to provide a condition which is both necessary and sufficient for indoctrination but for the present I shall only look into the question of the necessity of a method criterion since I do not wish to rule out the possibility of other kinds of criterion at this stage.

I do not think that the specification above is adequate.   For a start, it is questionable whether it is properly termed a method criterion rather than, say, a form of evaluative criterion focussing on the achievement sense of indoctrination.   This objection could be met by a rephrasing along the following lines:

X indoctrinates Y with a proposition p only if X teaches p to Y in a way that tends to bring about Y’s non–rational belief that p, i.e., to bring it about that Y believes p but Y is unable to assess the grounds upon which his belief that p is based.

This move into the active voice provides a condition for the task sense of indoctrination.

A key phrase in this formulation is ‘non–rational belief’.   This is often used by those who put forward method criteria3 and sometimes used interchangeably with ‘non–evidential belief’ or a similar expression.   In Smith’s formulation above, he expands upon what he means by ‘non–rational’ with his reference to the pupil’s inability to assess the grounds on which the belief is based and I take it that he has in mind grounds which are reasons or evidence for and against the belief in question.   Other writers also insist that the pupil should be put in a position to investigate relevant evidence for his beliefs or weigh relevant reasons.

At this point, a common objection to method criteria of this kind is usually adduced: that non–rational methods have to be used in teaching young children who lack the intellectual capacity to assess the grounds for beliefs which are being imparted to them.4   If so, it is argued, then this cannot be a case of indoctrination – at least in the pejorative sense of the term – and so a method criterion cannot distinguish between indoctrination and that which is not indoctrinatory.   However, this objection can be met simply by restricting the method criterion for indoctrination to the use of non–rational methods “despite the availability of other, rational methods”.5   This serves to render the methods used with very young children non–indoctrinatory since rational methods are not available.

However, this highlights another problem and this is that the use of rational methods seems to be taken as an all–or–nothing matter but this is clearly not the case.   Ability to assess reasons or evidence is a matter of degree and this varies not only with age or maturity but also with intellectual capacity, knowledge and experience.   Also, as far as the teacher is concerned there are the variables of his own competence and the time and energy he has available.   It would hardly be reasonable to require of the teacher or the pupil/student more than that of which they are capable.   In other words, the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ should be applied to the moral acceptability of teaching methods as it is in other moral situations.   After all, methods used in teaching some ‘A’ Level science pupils are likely to be less ‘rational’ than, say, those used with research scientists.   The ability to question and assess evidence can be assumed to increase with experience and knowledge all the way through the educational process and this process may be life–long.   Perhaps one of the most important features of indoctrination is that it tends to impair the pupil’s capacity to develop such abilities.

Further, use of the term ‘indoctrination’ seems to presuppose some understanding on the part of the taught.   A good example of this is in that form of indoctrination that ‘inoculates’ a person against a change in his beliefs by exposing him to weakened forms of counter–arguments to his belief and thereby apparently builds up resistance to change more effectively than does the supply of supportive arguments.6   Other forms of indoctrination also seem to require some understanding of reasons and arguments so it would seem that it can never be a matter of using strictly non–rational methods.   They would take us entirely outside the sphere of beliefs based on reasons or evidence to the purely causal processes of hypnosis, conditioning, brain–washing and the like.   These processes are to be sharply distinguished from indoctrination although they share with it the possibility of being morally acceptable in certain circumstances, e.g., with very young children.   For example, it is arguable that conditioning and the like are acceptable in the very early years of childhood in order to establish the preconditions for education and indoctrination to become real alternatives.   A definition of indoctrination therefore needs to be narrow enough to exclude such purely causal processes.

All this is incorporated in a third version of the method criterion which I would put as follows:

X indoctrinates Y with a proposition p only if, given the capacities of both X and Y, X teaches p to Y in a way that is less rational than it could be in that it tends to restrict the development of Y’s ability  to assess the grounds upon which his belief that p is based.

By ‘development’ here, I do not mean any purely ‘natural’ process but rather that which could be produced by educational processes.

There is, however, a further objection to with all three versions of the method criterion considered so far and this is that they can all apply only to beliefs  rather than, say, to attitudes.   I think that this objection ignores the fairly plausible suggestion that attitudes have cognitive cores so that, in at least some minimal sense, they can be expressed in propositional beliefs.   Hugo Meynell, for example, instances the possibility of bringing up a child in such a way that he unthinkingly treats women as inferior to men without actually assenting to the proposition that women are inferior to men and he suggests that this is an even more thoroughgoing form of indoctrination.7   It seems to me that such a person does hold the belief in question although it may be tacitly held and never actually articulated even to himself.   If this is not so, then I think the discussion moves away from indoctrination to conditioning or some other purely causal process.   Nevertheless, this matter of attitudes and the possibility of a tacit dimension to indoctrination is of importance – especially in relation to the issue of content and doctrines, ideologies and the like which we shall meet later.

Assuming that indoctrination is centrally concerned with beliefs rather than with non–propositional attitudes, there is a further objection to the method criteria I have  formulated.   This is that they all apply only to beliefs which are based on reasons and evidence, i.e., only to beliefs that are inferentially justified.   This means that they do not apply to beliefs that are immediately justified.   Indeed some say that indoctrination cannot apply to such beliefs.   Kingsley Price, for example, writes:

“Beliefs that do not admit of evidence are neither reasonable nor unreasonable.   I cannot reason myself into the belief that I feel warm; and since I cannot, no procedure that brings me to it can be unreasonable.”8

Price’s example is of a belief that is minimally dispositional and has minimal ramifications.9   However, the properly basic beliefs of Plantinga and other Reformed epistemologists have fairly maximal ramifications, notably the belief that God exists and the related thesis that divine revelation may be self–authenticating.   Can it be that no procedure that brings me to these beliefs can be unreasonable or that they cannot be the subject of an indoctrinatory method?   This would seem a strange conclusion since many writers use just such beliefs in their paradigm examples of indoctrination.   I shall suggest shortly that a content criterion cannot be sufficient for indoctrination and that an intention criterion is not necessary.   So if the paradigm cases involving such beliefs really are cases of indoctrination, it must be (partly) a matter of method and yet the method criteria on offer do not apply to properly basic beliefs.   So it must be a matter of method and yet it cannot be!

I shall return to the question of indoctrinatory method later in this chapter but, before going on to the other possible kinds of criteria, there is an important point that emerges from this.   This is that it suggests that the whole discussion of method criteria for indoctrination takes place against an epistemological background that, apart from the brief quotation above,  tends to exclude from consideration the possibility of there being any properly basic beliefs.   Its underlying assumptions therefore exclude from the outset the possibility of belief in God being properly basic or divine revelation being self–authenticating.   Repeated references to assessment of reasons and evidence for belief suggest that the framework being generally taken for granted is probably justificationist of a fairly strongly internalist kind, if not actually classical foundationalist.   It assumes the value of autonomous rationality and tacitly excludes a theonomous alternative.


Since it seems very plausible to suggest that any content whatsoever can be handled in an educational process at an appropriate level, it follows that any content whatsoever can be handled in a way that is morally acceptable and therefore not indoctrinatory.  But if this is correct it does not follow that indoctrination is not at all a matter of content even though certain methods may be necessary for it to occur.   It could be that indoctrination takes place  only when certain beliefs are taught in certain ways.   And at least some purported examples of indoctrination do combine content and method, for example, teaching false beliefs as if they were true or teaching beliefs not known to be true as if they were known to be true.   To show that content is irrelevant, it would be necessary to show that any content whatsoever could be taught by an indoctrinatory method.

Turning first to the more obvious candidates for indoctrinatory content, some writers have stressed the link in meaning between ‘indoctrination’ and ‘doctrine’.   For example, Peters writes:

“… whatever else ‘indoctrination’ may mean it obviously has something to do with doctrines, which are a species of beliefs.”10

This seems very sensible but at least two questions arise: what is it that marks doctrines off from other beliefs and how is indoctrination linked with them?   Perhaps, in relation to the second of these questions, not only doctrines can be indoctrinated but also beliefs which tacitly presuppose doctrines without being themselves strictly doctrinal.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘doctrine’ as ‘what is taught, body of instruction; religious, political, scientific, etc., belief, dogma or tenet’.   However, the first alternative in this definition would make all teaching indoctrinatory and it therefore fails to demarcate indoctrination (in its pejorative sense) from education.   So if it is to be helpful to say that indoctrination can only be of doctrines, we need a narrower sense of the latter term than ‘what is taught’.   The following is a definition proposed by Woods and Barrow:

“A doctrinal system of belief … consists of an inter–related set of ideas, based upon certain propositions or postulates that cannot be demonstrated to be unquestionably true, which taken together have repercussions for the way in which the believer views the world and for the way in which he lives his life.”11

Basic beliefs of all kinds are such that they cannot be shown to be true although it does not follow – or so Reformed epistemologists claim  – that they cannot be known to be true.   Whether or not the basic axioms of a mathematical or logical system would fall into this category I am not sure but the second element of the above definition draws attention to the purported worldview–ish and practical implications of a doctrinal system and this would seem to apply rather more to the higher and more comprehensive levels of the hierarchy of forms of knowledge than to mathematics and logic.   Metaphysical, religious, moral and political basic beliefs would be rather more obviously doctrinal.   The basic beliefs of systems like naturalism, materialism and the like would also be doctrinal.   But the definition given above does not require that doctrinal beliefs have to be basic: rather, it suggests that they are integral to systems of beliefs which have both undemonstrable bases and pervasive consequences for a person’s total outlook and way of life.
This points to an important way in which basic beliefs may be imparted.   Since they are presupposed by other beliefs in a doctrinal system, they can be taken for granted in setting the framework for a lesson or discussion.   For example, a lesson which starts from examination of the question of whether God only works through ‘natural’ means or intervenes supernaturally in nature presupposes the existence of God.   And, as I have suggested, even a discussion of the question of indoctrination will take for granted some basic beliefs about persons, rationality and the like.   Gregory and Wood display some concern on this kind of possibility as they write:

“Is it not possible to unearth a number of doctrinal propositions that provide the rationale for our own paper?   Thus, ‘it is impossible to reach true conclusions as far as doctrines are concerned’, or, ‘The rational way is the only way to get at the truth’.   … There remains unease on our part that we may be half–way towards being characterised as indoctrinators ourselves, on our own criteria at any rate.”12

Whether or not their unease on this point is justified depends upon what are acceptable ways to deal with such basic beliefs.   We shall return to this shortly in an attempt to bring together some of the criteria.

I think that doctrines defined in terms such as the above are the classic content of indoctrination and cover the usual paradigm examples.   This, of course, does not establish the necessity of a content criterion because it is still possible that any belief whatsoever may be indoctrinated.   Those who argue that indoctrination is not restricted to any particular kind of content or, at least, that it is not restricted to doctrines have produced various counter–examples.   John White, for example, suggests that a teacher might want to get a boy to hold unshakably the belief that Melbourne is the capital of Australia, just to show that it can be done.13  White allows that we may generally use the word ‘indoctrination’ only in relation to the teaching of beliefs that form part of an ideological system but insists that his hypothetical example is sufficiently like the more usual cases of ideological indoctrination to justify the teacher in question in calling it indoctrination.   I am not sure that White is correct in setting aside general linguistic usage in seeking to analyse concepts or in concluding that the connection between ‘indoctrination’ and ‘ideology’ is contingent rather than necessary.   What other source do we have for analysis of concepts but general linguistic usage?   The problem here is that general usage has changed somewhat from that which covers teaching of all kinds of knowledge to a more limited pejorative sense and, for this reason, a dictionary which has to include all these uses is of limited use.   The teacher in White’s example might well call what he is doing indoctrination (in the pejorative sense) but I think most people would find it a somewhat odd use of the term even though they would agree that the activity in question is indeed an example of miseducation of some kind or other.

Other counter–examples adduced include: “He does not regard Pop music as music because he has been indoctrinated to believe that only classical music is music”, “He believes that it is always wrong to act illegally because he has been indoctrinated to do so” and “He has been indoctrinated to believe in the existence of ghosts”.14   These examples have in common that the beliefs in question are fairly controversial and I would expect their contexts to show that they were taught in a way that was less rational than it could have been given the conditions in my third version of the method criterion earlier.   I would expect them to meet the method criterion but do they meet the criterion of doctrinal content?   Without a context we cannot say but I would suggest that it is not impossible that they should.   The first example could be uttered by a devotee of some cult movement which holds that Elvis Presley is still alive.   The second could well be about someone who has been on the receiving end of a Thought Reform Programme in a totalitarian state and the third could refer to an initiate into spiritism of some form.   I would maintain that these examples make more sense if both content and method criteria apply to their uses of ‘indoctrinate’.   To say, for example, ‘He has been indoctrinated to believe that the square of seven is forty–eight’ does not make sense in the same way.

The more plausible counter–examples to a criterion of doctrinal content are such as to be likely to have been taught using an indoctrinatory method and for which a background of a doctrinal system is not unlikely.   Here I am using the term ‘doctrinal system’ in a slightly wider sense than, for example, John White does when he refers to a “close–knit system” of political or religious beliefs and in relation to which he takes “communist systems of political education or, perhaps, the teaching of religion in Roman Catholic schools” to be paradigm cases of indoctrination.15   My wider sense refers to worldviews and these need not be close–knit or explicitly formulated but this sense need not be so wide as to render the use of the term ‘doctrinal system’ meaningless.   After all, we are dealing here with concepts which are “fuzzy round the edges”.16   It is in this wider sense that indoctrination may take place in any part of the school curriculum.   Beliefs may be imparted along with tacit presuppositions that come to form the framework of the pupil’s world–and–life–view.   There could be a ‘hidden curriculum’ being taught – not necessarily knowingly or intentionally – in that, say, the examples used in a mathematics lesson are racist or the impression is being given that human reason must always have the last word in all matters.   Some form of naturalism could  be imparted in this way in a science lesson.

Doctrinal content is not sufficient for indoctrination since any content whatsoever can presumably be handled in a morally acceptable manner but, in the pejorative sense of the term as I am using it, it is necessary for indoctrination.   Perhaps there is something of a stipulative or persuasive definition in the way I have gone about this but I do think it conforms to the general usage of the term and covers the most plausible examples.


I have maintained that both method and content are necessary for indoctrination but are they jointly sufficient for it?   I think they are because I find the other main candidate – an intention criterion – to be unnecessary and I shall attempt to show fairly briefly why I do so.

Some have argued that an intention criterion is necessary for indoctrination and, indeed, some have argued that it is also sufficient.  Among these are John White who suggests that “indoctrinating someone is trying to get him to believe that a proposition ‘p’ is true, in such a way that nothing will shake that belief”17 and I. A. Snook who writes:

“A person indoctrinates P (a proposition or set of propositions) if he teaches with the intention that the pupil or pupils believe P regardless of the evidence.”18

White’s definition is wider than Snook’s since, presumably, beliefs may be shaken by factors other than counter–evidence, e.g., the influence of a charismatic personality or peer–pressure.   But both have it in common that what makes an activity indoctrinatory is what the indoctrinator intends or attempts to accomplish through the activity rather than what kind of activity he engages in or what it actually accomplishes.   White would probably say that it is a false dichotomy to oppose intention to kind of activity since he holds that we normally distinguish one activity from another in terms of the agent’s intention.19   He points to the example of a person raising his arm and argues that observing his bodily movements does not tell us that he is signalling rather than doing P.T. nor does observing the results of what he is doing because in both cases a taxi might draw up.   I am not sure that the same would apply in cases other than those consisting of a simple physical action like the one that White chooses for his example.   If the action were more complex, e.g., those involved in signalling from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, or if it involved speech, then I think distinguishing between activities would not require reference to the agent’s intention.

I would further maintain that an intention criterion is neither necessary nor sufficient for indoctrination.   On the one hand, a person may be indoctrinated unintentionally or even nonintentionally.   It is possible to have indoctrinatory systems of education where the person engaging in the indoctrinatory activity may simply be ‘going through the motions’ quite unthinkingly or with the intention of simply doing what is expected of him.   If I am correct in this then an intention criterion is not necessary.   On the other hand, a person might intend to indoctrinate or, at least, to implant fixed beliefs or some such end result of his activity – for there cannot be many who actually intend to indoctrinate in a sense that they would accept as pejorative – and this person might fail to achieve what he intends.   A failed attempt to indoctrinate is never indoctrination so intention cannot be sufficient for indoctrination.

Of course, the proponents of an intention criterion generally show their awareness of counter–arguments like these.   White, for example allows the possibility of something like unintentional indoctrination which he distinguishes from “the full–blooded intentional sense” of the word but he is reluctant to term it indoctrination.   He writes:–
“Just as one can offend people without meaning to, so too, perhaps, one can indoctrinate them without meaning to.  But it does seem rather odd to say this, for if indoctrinating is a matter of getting people to believe things unshakably, does it make sense to talk of getting someone to do something without meaning to.”20
But White begs the question by introducing an intentional word like ‘getting’ into his definition!   If instead he had written ‘… for if indoctrinating is a matter of engaging in activities that tend to make people believe things unshakably …’, he could not have made his point.

Snook introduces a ‘weak’ sense of ‘intention’ to cope with some of the counter–examples to his intention criterion whereby a person would be indoctrinating if he foresees that it is likely or inevitable that as a result of his teaching his pupils will believe what he is teaching regardless of the evidence.21   It is very questionable whether this is a genuine sense of ‘intention’ at all.22   Suppose, for example, that I find myself required by a syllabus to teach quite young children about the evils of taking drugs.   Suppose further that I make every effort in doing so to bring it about that the children do not begin to take drugs but, at the same time, I am aware that their home backgrounds, environments or the like – together with the effect of my drawing their attention to drugs in my teaching them of the dangers of addiction – are such that I can foresee it as likely that they will experiment with them.   Snook’s weak sense of ‘intention’ entails that I intend these children to get involved in drug–taking notwithstanding all my efforts to discourage them.   This does not seem at all plausible.

The intention to indoctrinate is wrong but it is not indoctrination.   Assuming then that there are no other strong candidates for a criterion of indoctrination, I conclude that indoctrination is a combination of certain methods with certain kinds of content.


I shall now bring the two criteria for indoctrination together and examine how they apply to the characteristic themes of Reformed epistemology and their place in education.   Method and content criteria can be combined as follows:–
X indoctrinates Y with a proposition p if and only if both:

(i)  given the capacities of both X and Y, X teaches p to Y in a way that is less rational than it could be in that it tends to restrict the development of Y’s ability  to assess the grounds upon which his belief that p is based; and

(ii) p belongs to an inter–related  set of propositions which is based upon certain propositions or postulates that cannot be demonstrated to be unquestionably true and  which taken together tend to have repercussions for the way in which the believer views the world and for the way in which he lives his life.

Of the two conditions given here, I think that the method one is the more important but I nevertheless feel that general linguistic usage and the paradigm examples of indoctrination justify the inclusion of the reference to content.
There can be no doubt that beliefs in God and in self–authenticating divine revelation are included in the category of doctrinal content and, therefore, to teach them or beliefs that presuppose them meets the requirements of the second condition for indoctrination.  But the second condition is, on my account, insufficient on its own and so the important question is whether it is inevitable that they be taught in a way that meets the requirement of the first condition.   Only then is it justified to hold that to teach them is indoctrinatory.

However, as we saw earlier, it is impossible to teach basic beliefs in a way that is less rational than it could be simply because they are not justified inferentially.   Indeed, if there is immediate justification of such beliefs, to teach that belief in God ought to be based on reasons and evidence is, in a way, less rational than it could be because it is more ‘rational’ than it ought to be!  In other words, if this kind of account is along the right lines, it is impossible to indoctrinate belief in God because it is properly basic.   On the other hand, if belief in God is not properly basic, then it is indoctrinatory, all other things being equal, to teach it as if it were.

What of beliefs that presuppose a properly basic belief?   How should they be taught since they too meet the content criterion for indoctrination as I have presented it?   Here I would suggest that the presuppositions of these beliefs should be made explicit if, all other things being equal, the teaching method is to be as rational as it could be.   In this way, it can escape the charge of indoctrination in the more subtle form referred to earlier.   Of course, all other things may not be equal and it would seem difficult, for example,  to show a young child how one belief presupposes another, much less give him a lesson in Kantian transcendental deduction!

All this means that I am not indoctrinating if my belief in God is properly basic and I assume his existence in my teaching.   Nor do I have to make an epistemic ascent to the level of this present discussion in order to be justified in my belief in him or, presumably, in my open declaration of this belief in the classroom or anywhere else.   At this point, someone who does not share my basic commitment is likely to raise the Hirstian objection that commitment to any set of religious claims is something that a sophisticated concept of education cannot assume or pursue.23   I think I can then reply that my concept of education does meet Hirst’s requirement that it be concerned with passing on beliefs and practices “according to, and together with, their objective status” and, further, I am not seeking any commitment “beyond the grounds, reasons or objective basis for the claims concerned”.24   I am being as rational as I can be so how can I be faulted or, at least, how can I be guilty of indoctrination?   I can only be guilty of it if, in fact, the regress of justification stops elsewhere than with a properly basic belief in God.

I think that this shows how Hirst’s account comes from within a strongly internalist framework and assumes that reasons or evidence can be demanded for any belief whatsoever.   But if these religious beliefs are properly basic it is impossible that they be justified in this way.   In this respect, these beliefs are like the basic axioms of a mathematical system.   They differ from them in other respects and not least because they are not universal and because, being higher in the hierarchy of perspectives upon reality, they are more comprehensive.   The believer can account for the non–universality of professed belief in God so that hardly makes him any less justified in his belief.   That a belief has greater implications for a person’s worldview or way of life hardly makes it any less justified either.   Therefore, what Hirst demands it is logically impossible for the believer to provide – if his belief is properly basic.

Further, if the Hirstian objects to commitment, he must also face  up to the question of whether he himself is committed to one or other of the three alternatives of traditional rationalism, the professedly irrational faith in reason of the Popperian critical rationalist and what I have argued is the anthropocentricism of Bartley’s pan–critical rationalism.   These, I believe, share an assumption of unlimited rational autonomy in one form or another and their proponents are just as committed as the believer who submits himself to what he finds to be a self–authenticating authoritative divine revelation.   And if these basic assumptions are mutually exclusive then it is not possible to argue against one of them from the perspective of the other.   Epistemic ascent to the meta–level of discussing these differences ‘from above’, as it were, does not guarantee access to neutral ground because even there these basic presuppositions may have their influence.

It seems therefore that what we have are opposing positions whose basic assumptions are mutually exclusive so that each – on the basis of my definition given earlier – can accuse the other of indoctrination.   The Reformed Christian who adopts an account along the lines I have sketched out may accuse Hirst of indoctrinating because his teaching presupposes basic assumptions which he can not justify (because they are basic) and which, on his own account, he ought to be able to justify.   On the other hand, his opponent thinks the Reformed Christian of this kind is indoctrinating if he proceeds on the assumptions of his belief in God without first rationally justifying that belief.   There is here the possibility of an important a–symmetry in that the Reformed Christian is pointing to internal incoherence in his opponent’s approach whereas his opponent’s accusation of indoctrination does not make use of the Reformed Christian’s assumptions.    Apart from that, it seems that, for both parties, indoctrination is possible in their own teaching but inevitable in that of their opponents.   Indoctrination is not simply what the other person does – it is what he must do and what I may do.

This raises at least two major questions.   First, what is the teacher’s responsibility in relation to teaching alternative worldviews and how is he to discharge it?   Secondly, if he cannot indoctrinate his own basic beliefs, what about other non–rational methods for imparting beliefs of this kind?   I have touched upon this second question briefly already and I shall return to look at it more fully shortly.   First, I shall seek to outline a range of possible approaches to teaching alternative worldviews.


Brian Hill has sketched an outline of alternative approaches to his own and other worldviews for the committed Christian teacher.25  He labels these respectively ‘exclusive partiality’, ‘exclusive neutrality’, ‘neutral impartiality’ and ‘committed impartiality’.

Exclusive partiality is a stance that represents the teacher’s decision “to impart his personal and religious beliefs in a manner which precludes challenge” and at the other end of the continuum is exclusive neutrality which represents a decision “to keep such controversial areas of study as religion and politics out of the curriculum altogether”.   The third stance is that of neutral impartiality which provides for the inclusion of “descriptive material in areas of controversy” and invites discussion and analysis of them but the teacher must remain neutral in the sense that “he does not reveal his own personal stance”.   The other remaining stance is that of committed impartiality which differs from neutral impartiality only in that the teacher may reveal his personal beliefs “at relevant points in classroom interaction”.

Hill’s stances seem to vary according to whether or not controversy is excluded from the class–room (exclusive–inclusive), whether or not the teacher’s personal beliefs are revealed (committed–neutral) and whether or not there is bias toward the teacher’s beliefs (partial–impartial).   This would theoretically give eight possible combinations but two are impossible because a stance cannot be both partial and neutral and the remaining two are probably omitted because, on the one hand, committed impartiality is taken to be unlikely to coexist with the exclusion of controversy and, on the other hand, committed partiality would tend not to allow it.

The exclusive–inclusive distinction could perhaps be more helpfully termed ‘closed–open’.   Hill suggests two ways in which an approach can be exclusive – or, in my terms, closed – and they are the alternatives of (i) excluding controversial religious, political and other basic worldviewish matters altogether from the curriculum and (ii) allowing only one perspective and that in a way that ‘precludes challenge’.

The first of these is exemplified in the public (state) schools of the United States where religious studies is totally excluded from the curriculum.   Hill mentions that a similar approach can be found in his own country of Australia and the result is what he terms “a bleached, fact–loaded academic curriculum”.26   Hill says that this distorts the balance in the curriculum.   However, it is possible to respond to this by questioning whether the balance of the curriculum has to be achieved altogether within schools.   There are other educative agencies, e.g., family, church, media and the like, so, it might be argued, why should not the state’s part in the educational process be confined to certain parts of the curriculum?   After all, at least in Britain, education is recognised to be the responsibility of the parent and the teacher is ‘in loco parentis’.   There may be some merit in this kind of case but I think it is outweighed by considerations that arise from the unified and integrated nature of knowledge.   If knowledge consists of a complementary set  of autonomous areas or even strictly incommensurable areas, then it might make some sense to assign the immediate responsibility for different areas to different institutions.   But if it is as I have presented it – a hierarchical set of increasingly comprehensive perspectives upon reality – then to divide it up into discrete areas taught in separate institutions seems inevitably distorting.   At least where it is taught in different classrooms by different teachers in different departments or faculties of the same institution, there is greater possibility of co–operation and integration.

Assuming such an integrated view of human knowledge and the pervasive influence of presuppositions which are philosophical–theological and central to worldviews, the exclusion of religion will distort the balance of the school curriculum regardless of what happens in the home or any other place of educational influence upon the child.   Further, it can give the impression that these matters of basic outlook and basic values do not matter and it may even promote by default what Hill terms “a vague kind of secular humanism which is the more pernicious for being unadmitted and therefore unexamined by the students at the level of presuppositions”27 (an example of unintentional indoctrination).

If such basic matters of belief and value should not be excluded altogether from the school curriculum then perhaps they should be included but only in the form of a particular position imparted in a way that can not be challenged.   The official position is taught and controversy is excluded because critical questioning is not allowed.   This is Hill’s ‘exclusive partiality’ and it is found, for example, in some Christian and Islamic schools and also in schools in some Communist countries or, at least, it was in pre–glasnost days.   This is clearly indoctrination by the definition given earlier.   I think this is so regardless of the age–level of the pupil because, if the child is capable of critical questioning, not to allow it makes the method less rational than it could be.

However, the position is not so clear if such questioning is allowed and the stance, although still committed and partial, becomes inclusive rather than exclusive.   This is one of the possible stances omitted by Hill presumably because he takes it to be unlikely.  Unlikely it may be but, I think, not impossible.   I can conceive of a school which has an official position which it teaches along with the reasons and evidences upon which it is based as far as it is logically and practically possible to teach them and allows – even encourages – critical discussion to ascertain whether the official position is internally coherent.   This is not obviously an example of Hirst’s ‘primitive concept’ of education whereby beliefs and values are passed on by one generation to the next simply because they are held to be true and valuable.   It has much in common with his ‘sophisticated concept’ because reasons and grounds are communicated in a way that does not preclude critical scrutiny even down to the foundations.   This could and, all other things being equal, should provide for the consideration of defeaters and defeater–defeaters of the set of basic beliefs in question.   This could even be done with an awareness that it is not a universally shared set of beliefs but without necessarily going into any detail about alternative perspectives.

I am not sure that this stance of inclusive or open partiality is indoctrinatory in the way that the exclusive or closed alternative obviously is.   Assuming my earlier definition of indoctrinatory method, I do not think it can be faulted.   It does not tend to restrict the development of the student’s ability to assess the grounds upon which these beliefs are based unless we assume that knowledge of alternative beliefs and belief–systems is required for such assessment.   If this knowledge is required, it would seem that a person cannot be justified in believing something unless he has considered and is justified in rejecting all the alternative beliefs and belief–systems which are opposed to it.   It does not seem reasonable to require this so I suggest that whatever this stance is, it is not indoctrinatory as it stands.   It might be claimed that it is miseducative because it deepens the divides between groups in society with different worldviews or it fails to prepare the student adequately for life in such a society (and of this there will be more in the next chapter).   It may be miseducative without being indoctrinatory.

It might be objected that such a stance is partial and therefore biased towards a particular worldview.   But bias in itself is not wrong: I may be biased towards something because it is good or true or valuable and I may be biased against something because it is not good or true or valuable but I cannot be faulted for such biases.   This kind of bias is not necessarily prejudice in the sense of having made up one’s mind without considering all the reasons, evidences and grounds.   I conclude that this kind of open partiality is not as clearly unacceptable as either Hill’s exclusive partiality or his exclusive neutrality.   At least, it is not obviously indoctrinatory or biased in unacceptable senses of those terms.

The third stance in Hill’s list is that of neutral impartiality.   This is neutral in that the personal commitment of the teacher is not revealed and impartial since it is intended that there be no bias towards the teacher’s viewpoint or  any particular worldview.   It is inclusive or open in that controversy is not excluded from the classroom.   The ways in which controversial material is handled can vary from the purely descriptive through encouragement to clarify the student’s own values to discussion, analysis and critical assessment of a variety of viewpoints but always under the chairmanship of the ‘neutral teacher’.    The purely descriptive handling of controversial material would give an approach which would be better classified as ‘exclusive neutrality’, as would the version of this stance that excludes religious beliefs altogether from the classroom.   One of the main problems with the inclusive versions is not dissimilar to that of the unintentional indoctrination of exclusive neutrality.   It has to do with the kind of model the neutral teacher becomes for the pupil.   In seeking to avoid abusing the institutional power vested in his position and his generally superior intellectual resources in relation to an educational audience which Anthony Quinton terms “the most abject of all in its captivity”,28the teacher seems to have his colours nailed rather firmly to the fence.   This position is false to the reality of his own commitment and of his relationship with his pupil as a fellow pilgrim after truth and, I would suggest, tends to indoctrinate into a viewpoint which devalues commitment and turns discussion of such important matters into a playground for intellectual frolics.   In addition, as Hill and others point out, neutrality is impossible to maintain since the teacher is always unintentionally revealing his values and attitudes in all sorts of ways.29

So why not stop play–acting and reveal one’s own commitment to one’s pupils?   This takes us to Hill’s fourth approach, that of committed impartiality.   This stance is, like neutral impartiality, inclusive of controversy and differs from it only in that the teacher can come down off the fence at appropriate moments and in appropriate ways.   This is a very difficult stance to maintain without allowing the teacher’s position to exert undue influence but difficulties may be there to be overcome rather than to be avoided by adopting another stance.   Indoctrination is possible but not inevitable.

A final possible stance is committed impartiality which excludes controversy.   This is omitted by Hill and does seem unlikely.   It would require a purely descriptive and unchallengeable account of alternative worldviews including the teacher’s own which is simply identified as such.   As before, excluding critical analysis of worldview beliefs seems clearly indoctrinatory because it tends to restrict the development of the pupil’s ability to assess the grounds of these beliefs.

Having looked briefly at these six alternatives – including the two I have added to Hill’s four – I have rejected four.   Those which exclude controversy do not allow critical analysis of any worldview beliefs and are therefore indoctrinatory.   Neutral stances distort the nature of knowledge and commitment and tend towards unintentional indoctrination.   This leaves just two stances, both of which are inclusive (open) and committed.   They differ only in that one is partial and the other is impartial, i.e., in that one deals only with one worldview and the other deals with a range of worldviews.   They can be equally rational in assessing reasons and evidences as far as is logically possible and in encouraging discussion right to the foundations of the set or sets of beliefs and their potential defeaters.   As committed stances, both face the problem of the possibility of the teacher’s position exercising undue non–rational influence upon the pupil but this is something to be fought against in using these approaches rather than a reason for not adopting either of them.

Perhaps these two stances are not mutually exclusive as far as the pupil’s total school career is concerned: perhaps the partial approach of dealing with just one worldview is more appropriate with the younger child who having come to understand one perspective better is then in a better position to appreciate others.   For the Christian, the partial stance is only possible within a Christian context and this is likely to mean that of a Christian school.   A different kind of Christian school – no less committed – could provide the context for committed impartiality but it is also possible in schools which are not committed to any worldview – if that is possible.   This brings us to the subject of the next chapter so I shall defer further discussion of it until then.


If properly basic beliefs are not a matter of rational justification and if, as a result, it is not possible to indoctrinate them, the question arises: does anything go as far as imparting them is concerned?   We saw earlier how Price claimed  that no procedure that brings him to believe that he feels warm can be unreasonable since such a belief is not a matter of reason.   But there are a variety of procedures that may bring me to feel warm other than immediate awareness of warmth.   It seems conceivable that some form of hypnosis or conditioning might make me believe I was warm when I was in danger of becoming frost–bitten.   In such circumstances, these techniques may not be unreasonable – or reasonable – in the sense that they do not involve the use of reasons and evidence as a basis for the beliefs in question but the use of such procedures may be unreasonable in the sense that it is morally unacceptable.   Because a method does not involve argument it does not follow that we cannot argue about the use of the method.

However, my adaptation of Price’s example is not one that rules out as morally unacceptable the method as such but only the method used to impart a false belief.   What, say, of the use of an aggressive de–programming technique on the  brainwashed victim of a cult to replace false beliefs with true beliefs, assuming, of course, the unavailability of a rational method?   What is acceptable and what is unacceptable in relation to basic beliefs?

It would seem helpful at this point to look again at what constitutes a properly basic belief.   I have proposed that, to be properly basic, a person’s belief involves his immediate awareness of the object of the belief and his believing understandingly in the light of this immediate awareness.   I cannot be immediately justified in my belief that I am being appeared to red–ly if I am not being appeared to red–ly and if I have no understanding of redness.   Nor can I be immediately justified in my belief that God is speaking to me through the words of the Bible if he is not speaking to me through them and if, say, I have no understanding of the words.   I proposed earlier, on this basis and following Paul Helm, that the internal testimony of the Spirit should not be thought of as merely acting as a mechanical stimulus.30

What this entails, I think, is that the conditions under which a person comes to hold a basic belief must be appropriate for him if he is to be immediately justified in his belief.   Otherwise he lacks the immediate awareness and understanding necessary for such justification.   Just as there are conditions necessary in order that a belief which could be indoctrinated should not be so, e.g., appropriate reasons and evidences are provided and grasped, so, also, there are conditions here in relation to the imparting of basic beliefs if they are to be properly basic.   An acceptable method for the Reformed Christian to deal with the basic beliefs that characterise Reformed epistemology is to bring about the appropriate circumstances for coming to be immediately justified in holding these beliefs.

It is therefore not true that anything goes where teaching properly basic beliefs is concerned.  Indeed, ‘teach’ might seem an inappropriate term to use in relation to basic beliefs.   They may be caught rather than taught or, to adapt, an old saying:– belief cannot teach to unbelief, it can only preach to it.   D. Z. Phillips, in dealing with a similar problem in relation to his ‘groundless beliefs’ suggested “elucidation … displaying a thing of beauty” would be appropriate.31   The problem with basic beliefs is similar to that of how to teach that something is beautiful and the solution may be to display the thing and talk about it and its features.   The hope is that the pupil will come to see for himself.   He should not be hypnotised or brainwashed into seeing it and he cannot be argued into seeing it but, in the appropriate conditions, he may find himself with the belief that it is beautiful.

Elucidation of the Reformed Christian worldview will be a case of displaying it and pointing to its features in order to bring about understanding of them.   These features may include its internal coherence.   It is not a case of presenting reasons for believing but of meeting objections to belief and removing hindrances to it.   If it is possible, i.e., if students are capable of appreciating and understanding it, then it could include epistemic ascent to the meta–level of considering the nature of immediate justification.   All in all, it is a matter of bringing about the conditions in which immediately justified belief may occur.   And an education whose assumptions exclude the possibility of this happening is not neutral in relation to this kind of view of belief in God.

This could form part of a confessional approach to education which is not indoctrinatory because it respects reason within its logical limits and repudiates purely mechanical teaching methods which do not bring about belief with understanding.   It would seem appropriate for a Christian home, school or church and distanced from the indoctrination that can sometimes take place in home, school or church.   But what about the non–denominational school?   What about preparation for life in a pluralist society?   What about common ground with those of other worldview outlooks and co–operation with them in coming to understand the world?  Should all schools be identified with their particular worldviews – Christian (of many different kinds?), Muslim, Jewish, Humanist, etc.?   These and related issues are the subject of the discussion of the final chapter.