Religous schools and brainwashing (II)
Thanks for the insightful comments on my previous post.
I guess the first thing I should say (as I do in The War For Children’s Minds) is that of course various purely causal mechanisms are inevitably going to be applied to shape belief in and out of the classroom, and yes this is, to some extent, a good thing. Giving a kid a sweetie or a hug when they do well can be a form of “emotional manipulation” but is certainly not brainwashing. Getting kids to repeat stuff and learn by rote is obviously not brainwashing either.
I also doubt whether a very precise algorithm-like definition of brainwashing can be given – certainly not in terms of “necessary and sufficient conditions”. Brainwashing is, I suspect, what Wittgenstein calls a “family resemblance concept”. There is a range of indicators for brainwashing, and the more are satisfied (and the more strongly they are satisfied) in a given system, the more like brainwashing it is. There is, if you like, a sliding scale from education to indoctrination to brainwashing, with no precise boundaries between them.
Taylor’s specification of the five “core techniques” of brainwashing: isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition and emotional manipulation, while not perfect, is certainly helpful. I am inclined to add a fifth (necessary?) condition for brainwashing – that the regime must not encourage (either explicitly, or covertly) independent critical thinking and questioning of central tenets.
It seems to me that, if there is no such encouragement, plus all five of Taylor’s boxes are strongly checked, then you are probably looking at, at the very least, indoctrination, and probably something very close to brainwashing.
Juliana’s point that learning by rote is not brainwashing, and the lack of a definition in terms of “necessary and sufficient conditions” does not undermine the above suggestion.
Juliana is right that what people like to call “brainwashing” depends to some extent on the content of the beliefs involved. If we like the beliefs, we call it “education”; if we don’t, we call it “indoctrination” or even “brainwashing”. I kind of made that point myself when I issued my faith schools challenge here.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t possess a fairly robust notion of brainwashing – something very much along the lines that Taylor is talking about. We do. And while many religious schools certainly aren’t guilty of it, many, I think, do come perilously close. Much closer than some of the faithful are prepared to admit… (which was much the point I was making with my faith school challenge).
If you want to know why I think reliance on purely causal techniques for inducing belief (incl. brainwashing) is a very bad idea, whether or not I happen to approve of the content of the beliefs being inculcated, scroll down to my 1st and 3rd May blogs.