Education or Indoctrination?

I was speaking with a friend the other day about education – they had sent me an email showing an eighth grade final exam for a school in Salina, Kansas, in 1895.

I was amazed, flabbergasted, at the level of knowledge required to pass that exam, and I suddenly understood why we had grown into such a remarkable country.


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Here are a few of the questions (not necessarily the most difficult by any means):

  1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
  2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
  3. Define verse, stanza, and paragraph.
  4.  What are the principal parts of a verb?
  5. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
  6. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
  7. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
  8. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
  9. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
  10. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.

Again, this was an eighth grade class in 1895…

I am reminded of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” We became a great nation because we treasured learning and knowledge. We discovered that you can never be too educated.

Education is the parent of self-confidence, and the broader you sew your seeds, the more confident you become in almost all settings. But in many facets in America today there is almost a disdain for general knowledge – a cocky ignorance and an arrogant pride in the avoidance of learning anything past your immediate setting. Those who make it to higher education often find even the system itself is divided into colleges and universities that teach diametrically opposed concepts and refuse to entertain the possibilities their foes present.

So much of our educational system today is a process of indoctrination, and it strikes me that children should most importantly be taught the rudimentary process of how to think, not what to think. The good news is, there are still wonderful teachers out there, struggling every day to instill the wonder of learning, and they are truly the vanguard of hope for this nation.

I will leave you with a wonderful quote by the author, Doris Lessing: “Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgments.”

Amen, Doris.Amen…

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

Michael Reisig

Michael Reisig

Michael Reisig has been writing professionally for 15 years. He is an award-winning newspaper columnist and a best-selling novelist. Be sure to check out his latest 2-part best-sellers, "Caribbean Gold - The Treasure of Tortuga and The Treasure of Time" -- "If you have enjoyed Michael Reisig’s best-selling “Road To Key West” novels, you will love his new “Caribbean Gold” series, which begins with “The Treasure of Tortuga."

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