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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Critical thinking is deliverance from indoctrination

March 3, 2024 |

Indoctrination is the antonym of critical thinking. It is the bane of our schools and of our political culture. It arrests intellectual maturation and the search for truth without ulterior motives.

The starting point of critical thinking is always asking and answering “why” before proceeding to “how.” The starting point of indoctrination is never asking “why” and simply following orders or robotically regurgitating what is presented as gospel with no evidence or reasons.

Indoctrination is when children are terrified into unthinkingly echoing teacher or parental dogmas because acting as an ignorant king or queen is a presumed teacher or parental prerogative that is blasphemy to question. Indoctrination kills intellectual curiosity and arrests mental development. Children should be taught there are no bad questions, only bad answers.

Indoctrination is the father of supreme evils. It is the following orders defense of every war criminal or gangster, like Adolf Eichmann of Holocaust notoriety. It reduces man to a reptile without scruples against the most reprehensible acts that characterize every dictator. Indoctrination enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin readily to find conspirators to murder Alexei Navalny and to shoot down Malaysia Air Flight 17 over Ukraine. It enabled slavery to flourish for centuries.

Critical thinking, in contrast, is the mother of enlightenment and morality. It recognizes that all men and women are born equal, that the DNA of the species is the same everywhere, that everyone’s station in life should correspond to their character and accomplishments without more, and that the beginning of wisdom is the acknowledgment that “I could be wrong.”

Critical thinking is the locomotive of intellectual advancement. It enabled the replacement of the geocentric theory of the universe with the heliocentric. It enabled Newton’s discovery of the laws of motion and Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity. It enabled the Divine Right of Kings to be superseded by popular sovereignty and government by the consent of the governed.

Indoctrination in white supremacy, in contrast, gave us Jim Crow, the KKK, separate-but-equal, and Black lynchings for a century after the Civil War Amendments. And white supremacy is not yet dead.

Indoctrination in antisemitism begot persecution of Jews, the lynching of Leo Frank, Kristallnacht and the Holocaust.

Indoctrination in misogyny fathered the burning of witches and the exclusion of women from education, the workplace and professions.

Schools should be role models in critical thinking where a free marketplace of ideas flourishes. Viewpoints that are hated by some or a majority should be addressed on their merits, rather than their speakers murdered by ad hominem attacks. But schools have degenerated into Chinese re-education camps to indoctrinate youth in fact-free intellectual dogmas currently in vogue through name-calling, ostracism and concocted accusations of bigotry.

Socrates is the hero of critical thinking. He uniquely appreciated what he did not know and searched for truth accordingly. He took the hemlock in lieu of a vegetative, subhuman, unexamined life. Education’s finest hours are in creating young clones of Socrates as the best defense against the human propensity for indoctrination, an earmark of intellectual sloth.

Voltaire next to Socrates should be celebrated in the classroom. He reportedly related the sentiment, “I wholly disagree with what you say and will contend to the death for your right to say it.” Thomas Jefferson also entered the Valhalla of critical-thinking giants in declaring, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of men.”

Critical thinking recognizes that a man who does not grow wiser by the day is a fool, that to err is human but to acknowledge and correct error is divine, that truth is a process or state of mind that understands that all knowledge should be provisional depending on new facts or more refined deliberation. Truth knows no statute of limitations.

The greatest danger to our democracy, enlightenment and justice is in schools that indoctrinate under the false flag of education. But indoctrination will end only when parents demand their children be taught critical thinking — to question everything and to accept nothing at face value.

Armstrong Williams (; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”




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