Indoctrinate

Recently there has been some nit-pickery over my use of the phrase “support the indoctrination of critical thinking” at the bottom of one of my toasts which had more to do with the blogging networks application on Facebook than that.

And if you want to help support me on my mission to indoctrinate teenage girls with critical thinking, you can join the Teen Skepchick network here.

Skep replied:

The last thing you should be doing is claiming to ‘indoctrinate’ people. Bad choice of words, bad choice of attitude.

Evolved Rationalist said:

Sigh. Some people don’t understand what the phrase ‘tongue-in-cheek’ means.

And an essay was received in the comments from Skep.

No, Evolved Rationalist, some people actually understand the power of language. And know what you’re up against when this casual attitude is seen as ‘the best approach’.

Yes. Language is a powerful thing. To help us understand that power we have dictionaries like my copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 9th edition which I am ever so fond of.

indoctrinate v.tr. 1 teach (a person or group) systematically for a long period to accept (esp. partisan or tendentious) ideas uncritically. 2 teach, instruct. indoctrination n. indoctrinator n. [IN- + DOCTRINE + -ATE]

Um, let me make that more concise. Teach to accept ideas uncritically.

So to indoctrinate critical thinking…

If you use words like ‘indoctrinate’ and then try to sell a concept to people who are resistant (e.g, people who are tending to be critical of skeptics or doubtful of what might be the value) – then you’re already starting off on the wrong foot.

Actually, I think that if they’re critical of uncriticalness they’re already on the right track to skepticism.

Especially the very dangerous approach of skepticism = atheism, when that is the last thing skepticism should be touted as. Want to have people who are of an agnostic or faith-based mindset to shut down even before they are considering supporting it? Want to have teachers see it as ‘more trouble than it’s worth’ when it takes the approach of alienating the majority of faithful despite the (uncertain) benefits it claims to have for critical thinking skills?

I did a toast on here which I cross-toasted on Teen Skepchick about how theists can be skeptics too. Short, not really thoroughly argued, but there you have it.

Then go ahead. Use words like ‘indoctrinate’. Fail to have a proper mission statement. Better yet, have no obvious educational links or educators attached to the project or site.

“Indoctrinate critical thinking” is not really the mission statement. Again, that wasn’t serious. And, judging by the definition of indoctrinate, it wouldn’t have made sense if I were serious. The mission is to encourage critical thinking and skepticism in teenage girls. I’m sure I could write something more eloquent and inspiring if I had the brain juice but that’s the gist of it.

Being just another minority-based website with opinions and views… nothing new. And ‘tongue-in-cheek’ isn’t something that wields much weight when you’re trying to explain to students and parents why they should check out a site or assert its authority (on what, exactly, by the way? Opinions of people on topics, with few to no relevant qualifications of the people, none education-based?).

Content is key, Evolved Rationalist. I look forward to evidence rather than more rah-rah advertising. In fact, a solid game plan with realistic ‘what is intended to be achieved’ would be better – than just ‘join for the popularity of joining sake’. If anything, that’s the most constructive criticism I can have of this rush to be popular amongst the already-skeptic-set. Start setting goals and designing the site as such. Start having some product for educators, with their input and understanding of the school systems, if that’s what they want to attract. Start figuring out what they really want to do for students and educators – rather than thinking that getting into schools is that easy. Why should this or other sites benefit? What have they most definitely have to offer?

So… yeah… us skeptics really love appeals to authority but I guess I see how we need that to draw people in. But… what authority would we have anyway? Teen Skepchick is just run by… teens. We don’t have any real authority on any subject so we rely on our reasoning and evidence. I can write posts using examples of how some logical fallacies are logical fallacies. For example, Edward Mitchell says there are aliens but Edward Mitchell could also say there are dancing pink unicorns on Neptune and that wouldn’t be true. If you want to know what the content of Teen Skepchick is, why not go take a look at it yourself? I’ve been linking to it the whole time.

In comparison to women’s magazines, popular books linking feminism to wiccan expressions, alternative cures, popular TV shows, which are resourced and funded to appear with glossy appeal and infinite social support groups. Where are the links to specific educational outcomes, exactly what classes will it suit – any idea of the curriculum strains to fit in content as it is? – and what range of ability will it better address in comparison to textbooks, documentaries and programs that either do the job better or, more challenging, ‘work for the other side’?

The idea, I suppose, is to be interesting. To have style. To be unique. To make it seem more pertinent to the day-to-day lives of teens. Who better to do it than us teens?

Because it’s going to take more than ‘hey, let’s indoctrinate! Tee hee hee!’. Is this really meant to be serious, or is this just more in-joke in-house fluffing about?

If you’re going to appeal to teens you can’t be serious all the time. Of course, I’m guilty of writing posts which are 1,619 words in length for Teen Skepchick, and had it been completely humourless that would have been enough to fry a teen’s brain like an egg on the surface of Venus. Again, I have written quite a bit of serious stuffz for Teen Skepchick if you go check it out, but seriousness 100% of the time is really really unappealing.

Personally, I’d be checking out the work of the National Center for Science Education in preference.

Yeah, I heart NCSE myself but do they really have a section which is just for teens? Or just for kids? Does it really have anything called “critical thinking 101” to teach people how to think?

Why did this need to turn into a whole spiel in defence of Teen Skepchick anyway?

On a much much lighter and cheerful note, Splendid Elles has just hit 200 toasts and is about to reach its 40,000th viewer!

If Skep doesn’t mind a bit of light-heartedness, I’d like to have a party. If he minds then we won’t have a party.

HA! Did you think I was actually going to let Skep keep me from having my frivolous moments?

PARTAAAAAYYYY!!! Wooo!!!

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Using the definition above, if you were to indoctrinate someone with critical thinking, you’d be making them uncritical of critical thinking. That very statement initiates the logical self-destruction sequence, imploding into a recursive loop of hilarity.

  2. Posted by skep on August 7, 2008 at 10:12 am

    … well, kind of, ‘The Nerd’.

    This would all be good and fine, if the common attitude was indeed to reach for the dictionary. In fact, the Dalek image is probably something they’d more likely associate with the term. Isn’t this more like what we accuse the creationists, et al, of doing? It’s tough enough to spin the term ‘skeptic’ to be a positive one.

    “Actually, I think that if they’re critical of uncriticalness they’re already on the right track to skepticism.”

    Way to misinterpret. Have a good strong look at the public perception of skepticism. The nay-sayer. The close-minded. Have a look at the stats that demonstrate that skepticism in its ‘actual’ rather than stereotypical form is in fact a minority. Skeptic is an insult in many cases (particularly more so with ‘climate change skeptic’ hitting most searches) – therefore I’d suggest, as I did before, to choose words with more care. That’s all.

    Re: Atheism – “Short, not really thoroughly argued, but there you have it.”

    Pity your opinion is not in the majority then, it seems. Which is why care should be taken?

    ““Indoctrinate critical thinking” is not really the mission statement…The mission is to encourage critical thinking and skepticism in teenage girls. I’m sure I could write something more eloquent and inspiring if I had the brain juice”.

    Then how? By blog posts? Parties and drinking games? Look, there’s been a lot written about the lack of focus amongst skeptics already – by Daniel Loxton for a start – but to begin with, I’m wondering if you’ve talked to your teachers about this all and what they think? To your peers in real life? Skeptic groups have great intentions but little idea of how to implement them.

    If you’re about to assume that ‘critical thinking’ and ‘skepticism’ is the same thing, you’re heading down the wrong track for a start.

    “us skeptics really love appeals to authority”

    Shermer, Plait, Randi, Wiseman, Blackmore, Jillette, any popular figure in skepticism on the TAM stage who is appealed to as being so great… need I go on…

    “… but I guess I see how we need that to draw people in. But… what authority would we have anyway? Teen Skepchick is just run by… teens. We don’t have any real authority on any subject so we rely on our reasoning and evidence.”

    I would hazard that you’re going to need more if you are saying that you’re about very challenging outcomes such as ‘critical thinking’. Perhaps a more socially-orientated goal would suit better, to begin with?

    “To make it seem more pertinent to the day-to-day lives of teens. Who better to do it than us teens?”

    Then perhaps solid, practical foci would be better – than broad brush ‘skepticism and critical thinking’. Be definite. Be realistic. I’m certain that people in the ‘real world’ would probably suggest that too, so it doesn’t become an almighty impossible time-drain from studies, et al. Teens are just as likely to launch themselves into something they can’t actually handle or achieve, as much as any enthusiast.

    As for ‘who better’ – well, I’d suggest checking, as you mentioned, just who your audience of 40,000 actually consists of. How many are actually _female teens_? How successful are you really?

    ‘…seriousness 100% of the time is really really unappealing’

    Then again, check your demographics and see what is really wanted for both your audience and you. A good time to stop, check, figure out what you really mean by all of this enthusiasm. Because if you are, as you seemed to be, about ‘teaching critical thinking and skepticism’, perhaps you need to rethink what that means.

    “Yeah, I heart NCSE myself but do they really have a section which is just for teens? Or just for kids? Does it really have anything called “critical thinking 101″ to teach people how to think?”

    If, as you seemed to indicate before, that you were about education – then yes, it’s an educational site for teachers, sure. Do you want links to educational sites for teens and kids? Junior Skeptic Website is apparently going to be launched _very_ soon… and CSICOP already have materials. There’s plenty of sites out there and even courses in CT101. Are you planning on doing that yourself now? Is that your mission statement instead?

    “If he minds then we won’t have a party.”

    Let me know when you make your mind up, I am always willing to make suggestions that go beyond the social aspect. Which seems to be what you’re pushing. Fine, but clarity does help your readers.

  3. As a Science teacher, I say to Elles (and Thrawn) “you go girl (and Thrawn)!” To Skep I say your points are technically valid, though perhaps needlessly nitpicky. When considering style and meaning, one has to consider the audience. Elles was writing to HER audience, most of whom would grasp the intent of her statement about indoctrinating critical thinking. As a blazing banner for the skeptic movement, “Indoctrinate Critical Thinking” is a poor choice. As a passing remark during a rant, it works. And since one of the definitions of indoctrinate is “to teach”, it is also technically correct.
    Finally, I say “Eschew obfuscation”.

  4. Posted by Armed Pacifist on August 7, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    I read Elles fairly regularly and have had no difficulty understanding her. For the record I am a 50 year old man, with an aversion to Very Serious Discourse, at least as a steady diet. There must be frivolity,smart aleck responses to pedants and fart jokes or we risk cementing ourselves into place as merely mirror images of our ideological opponents, which can of course be found on the left as well as the right.

  5. Posted by Skep on August 7, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    … and again, my point is somewhat backed up. Two comments, neither by teens – if this is the ‘HER audience’ she is writing to, then what ‘teaching’ (again, is that the goal?) is actually going on? Older men applauding rants that they already heard before or could get from any other website? ‘Eschew obfuscation’ seems to ‘greatly gratify’ the wrong group so far…

    This ‘frivolity’, and smart aleck responses seem to be wasted on preaching to the already skeptical choir, if ‘as a science teacher’ and a ’50 year old man’ are atypical. Sadly, I find nothing on the links to anything new or different, nor particularly ‘teenage’ in comparison to most opinionated skeptic blog sites. But then, more evidence is clearly required first, with only two comments.

    As a final note, I would again urge passing on the url to a substantial ‘sample size’ of teens that SE knows (perhaps a few peers she knows aren’t ‘skeptical’ at school) and ask for their feedback. Is the site interesting? Relevant to them as the proposed ‘day to day resource’ (as said before)? Is it really discussing topics that they as either skeptic or non-skeptic would like to read and something they think makes them think? And certainly asking teachers if such work actually can translate to credit or has as much ‘kudos’ as attending a conference like the secular one mentioned earlier.

    Eschew obfuscation about what is actually being achieved regarding your definite goals (getting some achievable and definite ones would suit a lot of people, anyway!) and whether the chorus of support is actually a smokescreen of non-target-audience squeaky wheels getting the most of your oil.

    As for keeping from frivolity – I’m certain the ‘old men’ enjoy the floorshow and echoing their enthusiasm for subjects.. but really, be more.

  6. Skep, I think you fundamentally misunderstand what’s happening here. You’re looking at a social movement and mistaking it for… well, I’m not entirely sure what you think you’re looking at, but you’re wrong.

    A “mission statement” would be the opposite of useful… well, unless the idea was to make needlessly overorganized anal-retentiveness more socially acceptable. Teenagers already go to school, and mostly, they don’t much like it. Cluttering up an appeal to teens with mission statements or attempts at a central focus pretty much just dooms it to failure from the start.

    As far as all your talk about “target audience,” all I have to say on that subject is: are you a teenaged girl? No? Then shut your cake-hole. By your own assessment, your criticisms carry no weight.

  7. Posted by Natalie on August 8, 2008 at 4:45 am

    Hey, Skep, this may be my first actual comment… but I guess I count as one of Elles’ “Teenage Girls.” I’m fifteen. I’m in high school. I read her stuff…. semi-regularly. xD

    And why are you so cranky anyway? Arguing with a girl about the same age as I am, nit-picking her posts to the point that hurts my brain…

    As far as I’m concerned, Elles’ writing is both entertaining and informative. Especially since I mentally shut down whenever I see a link that takes me to a big science site with a bunch of tiny font that doesn’t make any sense to me, and I have to spend half a day reading (or rather looking at words and not comprehending them) articles by old men with a thousand years of college education before I make any sense out of anything they’re saying enough to actually CARE!

  8. Posted by Funkopolis on August 11, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Yes, as I recall from high school, the BEST way to get through to teenagers, especially teenage girls, is through lectures, lists of names of people they’ve never heard of, and absolutely no laughter or levity of any kind. Works wonders, especially in math and science.

    Man, I miss those old days at Bizarro-World High…

  9. Posted by skep on August 11, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Rystfyn –

    Social movement. Such a contradiction in those words, yes…(???) What dictionary or assumption are you making about ‘social movement’ that doesn’t actually imply a DIRECTION?

    A “mission statement” would be the opposite of useful… well, unless the idea was to make needlessly overorganized anal-retentiveness more socially acceptable. Teenagers already go to school, and mostly, they don’t much like it. Cluttering up an appeal to teens with mission statements or attempts at a central focus pretty much just dooms it to failure from the start.”

    PFFFT. Don’t say that to DJ Grothe, he’ll probably laugh in your face. So much for having a POINT to skepticism?? To someone’s writing?

    Now, here’s where you get rude:

    “As far as all your talk about “target audience,” all I have to say on that subject is: are you a teenaged girl? No? Then shut your cake-hole. By your own assessment, your criticisms carry no weight.”

    Ooh, what was that about ‘appeal to authority that skeptics so hate’? Right – let’s recap since clearly you’re not reading.

    1) Clearly you’re not a teen girl either. So, what weight has your opinion got? Shut your own, honey.

    2) Clearly this is meant to be (duh, the title of the site? The taglines?? What the?) about appealing to teen girls, with all the messages about ‘bringing critical thinking to…’ – so, what, shut up about questioning whether there’s implicit goals and whether they’re effective? Spot the contradictions, yet?

    Sorry, if you think that failing to question oneself and to go around patting oneself on the back for goals that you may not be achieving (or even bluntly refusing to check whether or not you’re actually getting that target audience) – then there’s news for you. This is about whistling in the wind.

    Perhaps you like telling people to ‘shut up’ when they point out some harsh truths – hey, don’t homeopaths do that? Pseudoscientists? – but to be rude on a site when I’ve given more proactive and empirical strategies than you have… well, might as well be a ‘woo’.

    To Natalie:
    “And why are you so cranky anyway? Arguing with a girl about the same age as I am, nit-picking her posts to the point that hurts my brain…’

    Natalie – chill or be chilled. 🙂 You’re not rude to me, so I’m not rude to you in return.

    I bet you have friends, teachers, parents, concerned and interested people who sometimes that point out where your work can improve. Who ask, say in the composition of an essay, what _exactly_ do you mean. Whether in media class, that you’re really grabbing the attention of your target audience when you say G and Q.

    Are you doing special pleading for Elle? Are you saying that she doesn’t deserve to be questioned, like anyone else? No, that’s just patronising and hardly what this is meant to mean. You might like to check out what I wrote previously on ‘appeal to authority’. She’s writing on adult topics, appealing to adults as well as (apparently) teens like yourself. If your head hurts, it’s going to hurt a lot more when you start realising that perhaps no one is immune to being asked ‘so, what is your purpose here?’ Skeptics SHOULD question themselves, their use of language and what they’re trying to achieve. What’s progress otherwise? 🙂

    If this is just about fun and excercising an opinion online for your buddies and girls like you who enjoy reading – fine. If this is about more explicit goals – then why not ask ‘okay, how are you achieving those? Where’s the beef in the burger?’ 😀 Didn’t DJ Grothe say as much at that conference?

    No, it’s not ‘crankiness’, dear. Although with comments like Rystfn, who tries to shut me up, will get a blunt response back. Have a look again over my post about how I have given some direct links and suggestions as to why resting on one’s laurels about ‘how much of an audience I have’ isn’t really indicitive of being particularly successful in communicating a particular message. Let’s face it, you could do a presentation in front of your whole school for a class assignment, but unless you get feedback – what grade do you get?

    As you said yourself, little bitty websites with bitty writing doesn’t appeal to you. So what is improvement? How do you know you can’t get better elsewhere? That you couldn’t give feedback (like I am) to someone who would actually LISTEN and thus adjust their ‘old man’ site to better help out? It’s all about meeting the challenge. I want to know if Elles’ ventures are keen to do the same.

    As for Funkopolis – go back and read. If you can’t add anything beyond ‘Oh – here’s something you _never_ said, Skep!!’ – then perhaps _don’t_ write?

  10. Posted by skep on August 11, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    If you didn’t get the DJ Grothe references, here’s where I’m quoting from, a recent email-newsletter:

    “…D.J. essentially made the case that though we are freethinkers, and we are hesitant to be too homogenous, perhaps the time has come for us to be more organized, more disciplined, and more focused about promoting and securing the process of free inquiry in society. This message from D.J. Grothe was what resonated most deeply for me, and I am optimistic that I am not alone among the many campus leaders and activists that attended the conference. I daresay wait and see what this perspective will yield in the months to come, or better yet instead of waiting and seeing, get involved!

    (Rodrigo Neely-Recuero is a neuroscience major at the University of Texas at Dallas and the host of the pro-science podcast Mindcore. He believes that promoting free inquiry is necessary for our world to have a productive democratic political process, and he really likes comic books.)”

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