Worried about indoctrination in public schools? You’re decades too late.

As the MAGAs and DeSantisites of the world decry attempted indoctrination in public schools and universities by some frightening woke horde, let’s keep in mind that the greatest tool of indoctrination in the history of the United States of America is the public school system.

To be clear, teaching Critical Race Theory and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion does not qualify as indoctrination. It’s about fact, acceptance of and empathy for our fellow human beings. They are the polar opposites of racism and privilege, which should only be discussed in the context of what is wrong in a “nation of equality.”

That the USA has never been, and MAGAs and white supremacists want to keep the status quo as long as possible.

So You Want to Talk About Indoctrination? O.K., Let’s Go There.

The Pledge of Allegiance

Every day of my elementary school years began with the communal recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the modern version of which was adopted in 1954. Stand up, back straight, hand over heart, no fooling around – this was serious.

First off, why would anyone pledge allegiance to a flag? It is but a symbol. In fact, it is a symbol of everyone’s right to ignore it, make fun of it, take a knee before it or even burn it. When I think of standing at attention with my fellow students to pledge our undying loyalty to a symbol, scenes from Orwell’s “1984” come to mind.

Secondly, as we were mouthing this daily vow, people who represent the nation that the flag also represents were lynching black people for daring to hope for equity, continuing a centuries-long oppression and near decimation of Native Americans, meeting with the Viet Cong to extend the Vietnam war long enough for Richard Nixon to win the presidency, breaking into the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., selling arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, ignoring genocide in Rwanda, justifying an invasion of Iraq based on made-up intelligence and on and on.

It’s to that we promised fidelity. It’s creepy. Makes my skin crawl.

Finally, one of the founding principles of this nation is supposed to be that, as long as we don’t hurt others, we citizens can think, speak and act in accordance with our own beliefs, not those of our neighbors, school board members, county commissioners or representatives in Congress.

Yet there we were, every single morning, reciting a pledge others demanded.

It was forced upon us.

We were being indoctrinated.

There’s no other way to categorize the requirement to make a public promise we had no way of understanding let alone assessing. We were kids forced to recite something, the nuances and depth of which few if any of us had the intellectual maturity to even partially comprehend.

If that’s not indoctrination, what is?

History That Wasn’t

Our history and civics classes were indoctrination, too.

They told us Columbus was the great man who “discovered” North America when, in fact, he was a lost European whose first thought upon seeing the natives was of the potential for profit from enslaving them.

After that, they gave us the impression that the republic’s “founding fathers” were pious and infallible, leaving out that nearly all of them were rich and privileged and that about a fifth of them were slaveowners.

No one taught us that the U.S. Constitution only counted black people as three-fifths of a person.

We were told about the Louisiana Purchase with no mention whatsoever about the fact that the land was already inhabited and should never have been for sale or purchase by European nations or anyone else.

Manifest Destiny? Colonialist bullshit that, once again, celebrated white America while ignoring the truth that the move west pushed out the land’s existing inhabitants.

They said the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, with the abolition of slavery but a side story.

We heard about Custer’s defeat at the hands of the Lakota at The Little Big Horn, but the narrative glossed over how the general and his handlers in Washington, D.C. were attempting to dominate people fighting to preserve their rights and way of life, forcibly removing them from lands they’d hunted, fished, lived on and revered for centuries.

The history books also failed to mention that the people of color who fought in the World Wars were treated like less-than-citizens, let alone heroes, when they returned. And it wasn’t until years after I’d completed my formal education that, through my own curiosity, I learned the U.S. government had “interred” (a whitewashed word for imprisoned) Japanese Americans during World War II.

No-one told us that primarily the poor and people of color were drafted, fought and died in Vietnam.

Examples abound; these are but a few.

Beyond the Classroom

They pushed it further, too, requiring us to stand and sing the national anthem, yet another indoctrinating and military-glorifying piece of work, prior to all sporting and other extracurricular events.

All of this was, and is, indoctrination on steroids.

Yet Here We Are

Again, Critical Race Theory and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are about truth and decency.

Those are bad things?


The real lesson of the past century or so of U.S. public education is that facts and ideas don’t need to be taught overtly to further an indoctrination process; leaving out truth and discussions of what should change are forms of propaganda, as well.

As for the MAGAs and DeSantisites, at best it’s disingenuous for them to decry sharing truth in public schools when generations of public-school students have been forced to accept what is clearly a whitewashed, incomplete, crock-of-shit version of history. At worst it’s a furtherance of the crimes of the past.

They will call me and my reasoning “woke,” as if it’s an insult.

I’ll take it as the compliment it is while continuing to wonder why they are threatened by truth and decency.

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bruce · March 5, 2023 at 5:39 pm

Very accurate and nicely focused. You’ve done yourself and us proud.

    Martin C. Fredricks IV · March 5, 2023 at 6:07 pm

    Thanks, Bruce.

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