To state it plainly, indoctrination means to heavily influence someone into believing a particular set of ideas, whether they are political, cultural, or religious. Most often, this is done when the individual is particularly young, when he or she lack the ability to reasonably conclude whether or not a statement is true. Those who’ve experienced heavy indoctrination may be unaware of competing theories, alternate hypotheses, or even whether the ideas hold any merit at all; those ideas are simply believed and held dear for an unknown period of time.
I’d never advocate for one to indoctrinate their child with strong atheist ideas either; I think it’s very important that we teach children how to think, not what to think. I attended a religious institution as a young boy, around the age of 11 or 12. Up until that point, I will say, I wasn’t too concerned with religious beliefs. I rarely attended church services with my family, occasionally took part in religious traditions, and prayed now and then; I was far from a firm believer and I don’t think my parents ever were either. We were simply doing what everyone else was doing. That was, I think, the most important part of my experience as a child; I was never taught these things to be true by those whom I respected the most.
Since I was enrolled in this religious body, I do have firsthand knowledge regarding the practices of indoctrination. The pre-kindergarten class was heavily populated; the surrounding school district had a reputation of holding poor pre-kindergarten class, leaving this particular school the only option for many parents. We as older children often read them Bible stories, rehearsed prayers with them, taught them Christian hymns, and so on and so forth. What bothers me about it now was that I gladly took part in it. These poor children had no choice in the matter. They were being taught by their authorities that these particular sets of religious beliefs were true, without a chance of error.
And most of these children would stay in this particular school system, as most who had attended were my age. Almost all would tell you they knew God was real, Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, rose from the dead, was resurrected and ascended into heaven on the third day; to them, all of these things were as real as you or I. Never did they entertain the idea these things might not be true and neither were they influenced to challenge those beliefs. They weren’t taught about other faiths and why other individuals find those to be true. It was a terrible environment for a child to have been brought up in and I sincerely hope I am not the only one to have escaped from the information they forced on everyone. I even refrained from challenging out of fear I’d be mocked or punished; in a way, I indoctrinated myself into thinking religious beliefs were off the table to debate.
So what age are children most vulnerable to indoctrination? Children are typically open to believing almost anything told to them, without question. During early childhood, children are most receptive which is why education is most important during this period of time. Learning comes faster, the memory is crisp, and children are generally open and willing to accept new information without inhibition. The age of reason is typically considered to be around 6 or 7, when the child begins to have the capabilities to weigh options and reach conclusions. This is when we must be vigilant when trying to help them develop the how to think approach. The Socratic Method effectively helps the child develop the critical thinking skills needed to maintain a healthy thought process. This period of time hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who seek to mold the mind of the young for religious reasons.
Most Christian church organizations heavily involve children in many different events. Sunday school, summer Bible camps, wilderness retreats, catechism or confirmation, plays, and musical ceremonies top that particular list. These organizations are quite aware how impressionable children are and it appears as though they’re taking full advantage of that. Some evangelical Christian organizations fully and publicly acknowledge what they’re doing.
In Islam, indoctrination is taken a bit more seriously. From a very early age, Muslims are taught to memorize the Koran; sometimes, this often holds importance over studying other more earthly curriculums. This has two significant disadvantages. Firstly, this has a long lasting effect on the child’s cognitive development, as it’s primarily based on one particular source. Secondly, as a result of that, they will learn to reject other sources of knowledge simply because it deviates from what Islam teaches. This then, as I state previously, creates an “us” versus “them” frame of mind, completely carrying the Muslim believer further from enlightenment; never questioning and always accepting, brainwashing at its best. The very same can be said for most of the orthodox Jewish population. Anywhere religious instruction exists, expect indoctrination to take place.
The above is just about the best summation of the topic that I have encountered so far.