Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Habermas and the Problem of Indoctrination

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_325

The Problem of the Criteria of Indoctrination

In the philosophy of education, the concept of indoctrination refers to unethical influencing in a teaching situation. Indoctrination means infiltrating (drilling, inculcating, etc.) concepts, attitudes, beliefs, and theories into a student’s mind by-passing her free and critical deliberation. When – on a general level – we define indoctrination in this way, it is easy to say that indoctrinative teaching is morally wrong and that teachers or educational institutions should not practice it. The problem is how do we acknowledge indoctrinative teaching? By what criterion do we consider teaching to be a form of indoctrination or to have elements of indoctrination?

The educational philosopher Ivan Snook has divided criteria that have been used in educational literature into four classes (Snook 1972, pp. 16–67):
  1. 1.

    The method of teaching as a criterion of indoctrination. In the US context, thanks to John Dewey, the tendency is to connect indoctrination to a certain teaching method. This illegitimate teaching method is said to include the following elements: (a) Teaching is authoritarian; (b) Teaching content is drilled in students’ minds; (c) There are threading elements in teaching and free discussion is not allowed. Some writers label these as irrational teaching methods.

  2. 2.

    The content of teaching as criterion of indoctrination. According to the trivial content criterion, the content of teaching determines whether or not teaching is indoctrination. As Anthony Flew put it: “No doctrines, no indoctrination” (Flew 1972, p. 11).

  3. 3.

    The intention of teaching as criterion of indoctrination. The first person to use the term indoctrination in its pejorative sense was William Heard Kilpatrick (see Gatchel 1972, p. 13). Kilpatrick emphasized the intention of the teacher in his concept of indoctrination. He did not deny the possibility of unintentional indoctrination, but nevertheless considered the teacher’s intention to be the most important criterion of indoctrination. John White defines a teacher’s so-called indoctrinative intention in the following way: “The child should believe that ‘p’ is true, in a such way that nothing will shake this belief” (White 1972a, p. 119, 1973, p. 179).

  4. 4.

    The consequence of teaching as a criterion of indoctrination. When we consider indoctrination in the light of the consequence criterion, we focus our attention to the outcomes of teaching and education. According to this criterion, teaching is indoctrination if the outcome is an indoctrinated person. John Wilson claims that an indoctrinated person lives in self-deception. She is a kind of sleepwalker (Wilson 1972, p. 18). The ground of the beliefs of such a person are believed to be untenable or beyond rational reasoning. An indoctrinated person holds her conviction despite of counterevidence.


These four criteria – stated in this traditional way – include serious problems that could potentially render the entire concept of indoctrination useless in the context of a postmodern teaching situation. I agree with Snook, who claims that indoctrination cannot bedefined as “irrational teaching methods” (Snook 1972, pp. 22–23). It is clear that when a teacher teaches in an authoritarian style, she tends to produce nondiscursive and indoctrinative learning, although this is a very ineffective way to indoctrinate in a modern teaching situation. It is mainly used in the military, in some private educational institutes, in some workplaces, and in other so-called total institutions (see Peshkin 1986). However, the lack of this kind of teaching does not necessarily remove the danger of indoctrination, which is why I disagree with John Wilson, who insists “it is also logically necessary to the concept of indoctrination that the indoctrinated person arrives at the belief by non-rational methods” (Wilson 1972, p. 19). The point in the concept of indoctrination is not, nor should it be, the concrete teaching method. The same concrete teaching method (e.g., question-answer circle) can be used either for indoctrinative purposes or for legitimate educative purposes. But I do not want to reject the aspect of method in the theory of indoctrination.

One might think that problems of the method criterion can be overcome by the use of the content criterion. According to the content criterion, teaching is indoctrination when the content of teaching consists of unscientific doctrines, regardless of teaching methods. This sounds promising, but the problem is how to define the term doctrine. What is the difference between a doctrine and scientific knowledge, quasi-science, and true science? Philosophers of science have not reached agreement on this subject, but teachers are expected to be able to discern between a doctrine and an irrational belief. Members of the Vienna Circle claimed that science is a system of true or justified beliefs (justificationism; in the context of indoctrination, see, e.g., White 1973). On this matter, I agree with Imre Lakatos, who has written that after the non-Euclidean geometry, non-Newtonian physics, and inductive logic, “it turned out that all theories are equally unprovable” (Lakatos 1974, pp. 94–95). There were good reasons to abandon scientific justificationism.

Also Karl Popper has clearly demonstrated the incompetence of justificationism. He created the so-called criterion of falsification to be used as a demarcation between science and quasi-science. In educational literature, Gregory and Woods, and Tasos Kazepides, have revised the content criterion in accordance with Popperian falsificationism. Gregory and Woods claim that unscientific doctrines are such the kinds of statements that we can never know are true or untrue (e.g., political or religious conviction). No new findings or conditions can make a doctrine false. Gregory and Woods call this the “not-known-to-be-true-or-false” property of doctrines. In the case of scientific knowledge, there must be some condition when the statement will be falsified. According to Gregory and Woods, Karl Marx’s political economy was not a doctrinal system in the beginning; afterward Marxism became a quasi-scientific and non-falsificative doctrinal system (Gregory and Woods 1972).

This Popperian revision of the content criterion also has serious problems. Every scientific theory has some elements that are non-falsificative. Let us take Euclidean geometry as an example. From the point of view of falsificationism, one can say that Euclidian geometry is a doctrinal system, because there is no condition in which it could be falsified. But it would be ridiculous to say that the teaching of Euclidian geometry represents a form of indoctrination, because it does not include any criterion of falsification.

I am in strong agreement with John White, who claims that indoctrinated beliefs need not form a doctrinal system. As White likes to say, “indoctrinated beliefs could be of any kind whatever” (White 1972b). If this is the case, for the purpose of the indoctrination theory, we do not need any demarcation criterion in order to separate doctrines from science.

Ivan Snook’s and John White’s strategy to avoid the problems of method and content criteria is to connect the concept of indoctrination solely to the intention of the teacher. Of course, the teacher is an indoctrinator when she wants to indoctrinate or manipulate students. This type of case is clear (the case of the total institution). But how many teachers really want to indoctrinate students? Teachers who have truly understood the ethical codes of teacherhood have no intention of indoctrinating students. So, it is more meaningful to assume that indoctrination happens unintentionally (by structural causes). In this case, the traditional formulation of the intention criterion (see White’s definition mentioned earlier) is useless. The intention criterion does not recognize indoctrination that is caused by institutional or social structures. I presume that in the (post)modern teaching situation, indoctrination occurs at the level of hidden curriculum (see Snyder 1973). No teacher or no educational institution openly and intentionally indoctrinates students, although many unreflected attitudes and beliefs (e.g., racist and ethnocentric beliefs that would be rejected in the open and critical discourse) are transferred to the next generation through education.

The traditional formulation of the consequence criterion is also very problematic. It presumes that an indoctrinated person does not change her mind regardless of the counterevidence. But who is to say that a person is indoctrinated? Should an unindoctrinated rational person always change her mind when the counterevidence is presented? What amount of the counterevidence is needed for a rational person to change her mind? Was Einstein an indoctrinated person because he did not accept the quantum physics regardless of the very reasonable counterevidence presented to him? We could also take an example from ethics. If I postulate (and I do not give any rational grounds for doing so) that the “categorical imperative is a pure fact of Reason,” and I believe it to be so regardless of any counterevidence, am I an indoctrinated person?

One way to reconstruct a more actual and useful concept of indoctrination for a modern teaching situation is to apply Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action as Robert Young has done. Young’s Habermasian concept of indoctrination opens up some promising perspectives, but on the other hand Young’s theory has problems of its own. Before focusing on Young’s theory and its problems, we must take a short look at Habermas’s concept of the ideal speech situation and his theory of communicative action.

Jürgen Habermas on Linguistic Interaction

The Concept of the Ideal Speech Situation

With the concept of the ideal speech situation, Habermas is referring to the idealized conditions of speech. The ideal speech situation refers to the situation where conditions for argumentative action are ideals. This means that in discourse there is no other force than the force of better argument. There are no inner or outer restrictions that determine the outcome of discourse. Only the force of better argument determines the speech situation. In the ideal speech situation, systematically distorted communication is excluded (Habermas 1984a, p. 177). In this imaginative yet factually ideal speech situation, it is possible to gain consensus about all those subjects that generally are discursive in nature.

Habermas outlines four conditions for his ideal speech situation:
  1. 1.

    All potential participants in discourse must have equal rights to use speech acts in such a way that discourse could be permanently open to claims and counterclaims, questions, and answers.

  2. 2.

    All participants in discourse must have equal opportunities to present interpretations, to present assertions, recommendations, explanations, and corrections, and also equal chances to problematize (problematisieren) or challenge the validity of these presentations, to present arguments for and against. In this way all possible critiques are visible and no unreflected prejudices remain.

  3. 3.

    These two conditions facilitate the free discourse and the pure communicative action in which participants, by means of presentative speech acts (repräseantative Sprechakte), equally express their attitudes, feelings, and wishes and also in which participants are honest to each other (sich selbst gegenüber wahrhaftig sind) and make their inner nature (intentions) transparent.

  4. 4.

    Participants have equal opportunities to order and resist orders, to promise and refuse, to be accountable for one’s conduct, and to demand accountability from others. It is only in this way that the reciprocity of action anticipations (Reziprozität der Verhaltenserwartungen) is realized (Habermas 1984a, pp. 177–178; see also Benhabib 1986, p. 285).


Habermas claims that no empirical investigation or study could ever reveal the facticity of the ideal speech situation, yet it still operates within it. It is a simultaneously real element of the discourse and a counterfactual standard for actual discourse (Habermas 1984a, p. 180).

Later on Habermas simply stops using the notion of the ideal speech situation and begins referring to the universal presuppositions of argumentation. He starts to speak about “universal conditions of possible understanding” and “general presuppositions of communicative action” (Habermas 1979, p. 1). In his article Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification, Habermas relies on Robert Alex’s formulation of universal presuppositions of argumentation (Habermas 1990, pp. 88–89):

(2.1) Every speaker may assert only what he really believes. (2.2) A person who disputes a proposition or norm under discussion must provide a reason for wanting to do so. (3.1) Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse. (3.2) a. Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever. b. Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse.c. Everyone is allowed to express his attitudes, desires and needs. (3.3) No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising his rights as laid down in (3.1) and (3.2).

In this article, Habermas says that he does not want to specify, renew, or change his former notion of the ideal speech situation (Habermas 1990, p. 88). In his book Between Facts and Norms, Habermas definitively leaves the concept of the ideal speech situation behind and claims that discussion of “the ideal communication community” (Karl-Otto Apel) and “the ideal speech situation” tempts the improper hypostatization of validity claims (Habermas 1996, p. 323).

Communicative Action and Speech Acts

At the heart of the theory of communicative action is the vision that the modern world view is differentiated into three parts. This is why nowadays there are better opportunities to come to a mutual understanding. Following Karl Popper, Habermas distinguishes the objective world, the social world, and the subjective world. A communicatively competent speaker can independently present differentiated statements concerning any of these three worlds. She can independently evaluate any statement about the world with proper validity claims. There are three validity claims for these three worlds:
  1. 1.

    Truth (Wahrheit). A claim that refers to the objective world is valid if it is true, i.e., if it corresponds to the reality.

  2. 2.

    Truthfulness (Wahrhaftigkeit). A claim that refers to the subjective world is valid if it is honest, i.e., if it has an authentic relationship with the subjective world.

  3. 3.

    Rightness (Richtigkeit). A claim that refers to the social world is valid if it does not contradict commonly agreed social norms (Habermas 1984b, p. 440).


Let us examine the example of the claim “Teachers have right to practice indoctrination in schools.” This claim refers to the social world, and its proper validity claims is rightness (justice). A communicatively competent opponent could challenge this claim by stating that it contradicts that which is commonly considered as morally correct behavior (or it would be commonly considered as such in a free and critical discourse). If an opponent merely says that “My inner self told me that indoctrination is wrong” (truthfulness or authenticity) or “It is scientifically proven that indoctrination is wrong” (truth), she is using an incorrect validity claim and she is not a communicatively competent speaker. So, in this case, the proper validity claim is that of rightness or justice.

To understand why Habermas has placed so much emphasis on the demand of mutual understanding, we have to look at Habermas’s theory of social action. First, Habermas divides ideal (pure) types of action into the categories of social and nonsocial action. An object of nonsocial action is nature, and the objects of social action are other people. According to Habermas, nonsocial action is always purposive-rational instrumental action: The actor makes use of specific objects for his or her own benefit. Social action can be either success-oriented strategic action or understanding-oriented communicative action. Strategic action is purposive-rational action oriented toward other persons from a utilitarian point of view. The actor does not treat others as genuine persons but rather as natural objects. Strategic action means calculative exploitation, or manipulation, of others. An actor who acts strategically is primarily seeking her own ends and manipulates other people either openly or tacitly. Communicative action is the opposite of strategic action. Communicative action – or its pure type – means interpersonal communication, which is oriented toward mutual understanding and in which other participants are treated as genuine persons, not as objects of manipulation. Actors do not primarily aim at attaining their own success but want to harmonize their plans of action with the other participants (Habermas 1984b, p. 285; see also p. 333.) (Fig. 1).
Habermas and the Problem of Indoctrination, Fig. 1

Pure types of action (Habermas 1984b, p. 285)

Habermas’s most vulnerable claim is that the tendency toward understanding is the immanent telos of speech or the original mode of language use. The instrumental use of language (in other words, strategic action) is, according to Habermas, parasitic on the original usage. “(…) the use of language with an orientation to reaching understanding is the original mode of language use, upon which indirect understanding, giving something to understand or letting something be understood, and instrumental use of language in general, are parasitic” (Habermas 1984b, p. 288). To state arguments in support of this vulnerable claim, Habermas presents his own interpretations of John Austin’s speech act theory. According to Austin, the basic form of a speech act is Mp.

I claim,

that it is raining



The performance of this basic form of a speech act means that:
  1. 1.

    The speaker expresses state of affair p (i.e., p), in other words executes illocutionary speech act.

  2. 2.

    The speaker makes a claim, promise, command, avowal, etc., in other words executes a locutionary speech act (which is seen in modus M).

  3. 3.

    By carrying out a speech act, the speaker produces an effect upon the hearer, in other words executes a perlocutionary speech act. As Austin himself put it: to say something (p), to act in saying something (M), to bring about something through acting in saying something (Austin according to Habermas 1984b, p. 289).


Thus, Habermas claims that locutionary and illocutionary speech acts are the original features of language usage. If the speaker wants to achieve any kind of perlocutionary effects, she must execute locutionary and illocutionary speech acts in a satisfactory manner. The speaker must achieve so-called locutionary and illocutionary aims before reaching at any perlocutionary ends. Habermas thinks that the perlocutionary aspects of speech do not belong to the immanent telos of the speech act. A perlocutionary aspect appears only after people begin to practice instrumental action in the linguistic interaction (i.e., strategic action). When this happens, locutionary and illocutionary aspects of speech are recruited as a means to utilitarian ends (strategic use of language). Strategic action is the kind of linguistic interaction in which one or more speakers want to produce perlocutionary effects. As such, only a portion of all linguistic interactions belongs to the category (pure type) of communicative action. The difficult question is, as will become clear below, whether teaching is communicative or strategic action.

Robert Young’s Critical Concept of Indoctrination

In sketching the non-indoctrinative and critical concept of teaching and learning, Robert Young constructs the concept of an ideal pedagogical speech situation (IPSS). It is based on Habermas’s theory of the ideal speech situation (ISS) explained above. It also refers to Klaus Mollenhauer’s educational theory (Mollenhauer 1972, p. 42; see also Masschelein 1991, pp. 134–136). Young interprets Habermas in the following way:
The idea of the ISS is a critical reconstruction of the assumptions of everyday speech communication. It is argued that these assumptions underlie the possibility of speech communication and are universal (…) When we speak we normally act as if a certain situation existed, even though, in fact, it does not. These assumptions are contra-factual (…) for without these assumptions there would be chaos. The assumptions are:
  1. 1.

    that what we are saying or hearing is intelligible, i.e. is coded according to the usual rules, etc.;

  2. 2.

    that what we are saying or hearing is true so far as it implies the existence of states of affairs;

  3. 3.

    that the person speaking are being truthful or sincere;

  4. 4.

    and that the things said are normatively appropriate considering the relationship among the people and between them the situation they are in.


(Young 1989, pp. 75–76)

For the purpose of the ideal pedagogical speech situation, Young defines a perlocutionary speech act as follows: “Perlocutionary action involves a special class of strategic action – that in which illocutions are employed as a means to ends other than reaching understanding and freely co-ordinating action plans in the light of validity claims” (Young 1989, p. 106).

Young emphasizes that we should not equate perlocutionary utterances with imperative utterances. Imperative utterances form merely one class of perlocutions. This class of imperative utterances admits two subdivisions:

Imperatives which appeal to known positive or negative sanctions which the person in power can control (type 2) and imperatives which appeal to a known normative context of legitimate authority (type 1) (…) But there exists another general class of perlocutions which might be called ‘deceptions’ or ‘ulterior purposes’ (type 3). In these, as Strawson has shown, a speaker has to succeed in getting a hearer to accept an illocutionary claim in order to succeed in some further purpose, which must remain concealed. (Young 1989, p. 106)

For example, a dishonest car salesman performs speech act type 3 when she is trying to persuade the customer (the perlocutive act) to buy a faulty car by presenting (illocutionary speech act) false statements (locutionary speech act) about its condition. In this way, the car salesman is attempting to successfully achieve a concealed strategic end, the sale of a faulty car at a good price.

With the concept of the ideal pedagogical speech situation, and with types 2 and 3 perlocutions, Young develops his own theory of indoctrinative teaching: “If the ideal pedagogical speech situation (IPSS) is one in which the student is able rationally to assess views or, at least, come to hold them in ‘a manner open to rational assessment,’ then only those speech acts which are illocutionary but not perlocutionary (in senses 2 and 3) can characterise the form of action we would want to call ‘educational’ rather than ‘indoctrinatory’” (Young 1989, p. 107). Because the difference between “illocutionary and perlocutionary acts (in senses 2 and 3)” is in the teacher’s intention, we can regard Young’s criterion for indoctrination as a communicative version of the intention criterion.

According to Young, it is not possible on the level of empirical pragmatics to show which of a teacher’s singular speech acts are legitimate (represent true education) and which are illegitimate (represent indoctrination). Perlocutionary intentions become visible in the structure of interaction over time. This is the general weakness of any intention criterion. Intention criterion focuses attention on the teacher-student relationship and excludes the aspects of social systems or ideological processes. Young recognizes this weakness, although he does not provide any supplementary criterion concerning content or consequence of teaching.

Critique of Young’s Criterion of Indoctrination

Young’s concept of the ideal pedagogical speech situation is problematic. It is based on Habermas’s theory of the ideal speech situation, which Habermas has abandoned or revised to something else. Both the ideal speech situation and the ideal pedagogical speech situation are ambitious attempts to overcome historicity, the context dependence of all our concepts. The concept of the ideal speech situation relies on the assumption that there exists some transcendental language game (Karl-Otto Apel), which precedes every actual speech situation. I think that these concepts (ISS and IPSS) contain values and preferences of our time, values that I gladly acknowledge. Nevertheless, conditions of the ideal speech situation are not properties of the transcendental language game. Attempting to promote these conditions to transcendental standards is, however, problematic.

Both traditional intention criterion and Young’s revised version do not recognize indoctrination that is caused by social structures and indoctrination that occurs at the level of hidden curriculum. In these cases it may well be that the teacher never uses sense 2 and 3 acts, but still some unreflected attitudes and beliefs are infiltrated into students’ minds. The teacher’s intentions may fulfill any requirements of validity, but some structural mechanism could still cause systematically distorted communication in teaching, which eventually leads to indoctrination of students.

Another problem is that teaching is a very special form of human interaction, which is why the concept of the ideal speech situation – and the concept of communicative action as such – may be poorly suited to the act of teaching. Is teaching, in its essence, communicative or strategic action? One could present very convincing arguments in favor of the notion that teaching is not at all communicative action (e.g., Moilanen 1996). According to Habermas, interaction is always strategic if perlocutive aims are involved. Where teaching is concerned, one could define didactic aims as perlocutive aims. From this point of view, teaching always remains as a perlocutionary action (in senses 2 and 3), in which the teacher attempts to influence others (Beeinflussung des Gegenspielers), and the teacher’s success can be evaluated by criterion of effectiveness (the validity claim of the instrumental and strategic action). In this respect, teaching is always strategic action and teachers undeniably use perlocutionary speech acts (in senses 2 and 3).

One could also claim that teaching cannot be placed along the axis of communicative-strategic action (see Oelkers 1983; Kivelä 1996). I would still rely on Habermas’s basic concept of interaction (communicative versus strategic action), but in a productive way. I want to introduce the concepts of communicative and strategic teaching, which are not simple applications of Habermas’s original concepts. I follow Jan Masschelein’s strategy to conceive pedagogical action as simulated communicative action (Masschelein 1991, p. 145).

I claim that the issue in the problem of indoctrination is not the question of what kinds of perlocutionary speech acts are legitimate (see also Puolimatka 1995, p. 153). The problem is more complex, and other aspects of teaching (content and consequence) should also be taken into consideration.

The Modified Habermasian Concept of Indoctrination

I understand communicative teaching to include value orientations in which the teacher commits herself to universal presuppositions of argumentation and acts in accordance with these maxims as to the best of her ability (“normative minimum”; Mollenhauer 1972, p. 42). Pedagogical communication is a kind of simulated communicative action, and it is more simulated in the early stage of education. When a teacher teaches seven-year-old pupils, the words “to the best of her ability” have different practical consequences than in the case of a teacher who teaches twenty-year-old students. The value orientation is the same, but the practice or application of presuppositions of argumentation is different. When we understand communicative teaching in this way, as an exceptional form of communicative action, the concept of communicative teaching is looser than the concept of communicative action itself. I would like to think that communicative teaching – as an exceptional application of communicative action – still remains within the realm of communicative action, although teachers sometimes make use of sense 2 and 3, illegitimate perlocutionary, speech acts. I could imagine that the amount of perlocutive aims – the degree of simulation of the proper discourse – is higher in elementary school than in institutes of higher education, but the value orientation of teaching is still the same in both cases.

In dealing with the dilemma of indoctrination, we should refrain from focusing specific attention on the singular speech acts of a teacher. When the telos of education is to produce mature and communicatively competent people and the content of teaching provides materials for independent and critical thinking, then the teacher may use methods that, when taken out of context, may resemble strategic action and the perlocutive use of language (or may de facto be some form of strategic action depending on how one defines strategic and communicative action).

In this respect, I have set two parallel criteria for indoctrinative teaching: (1) the communicative method and intention criterion and (2) the empowering content and consequence criterion.

The Communicative Method and Intention Criterion of Indoctrination

Like William Kilpatrick, I think that the most important element in non-indoctrinative teaching is the respect for other persons. Habermas defines communicative action as a kind of linguistic interaction in which one’s fellow man is considered as a genuine person and in which aims and ends of action are decided in an environment of free and equal discussion. Opposed to this communicative action, there is the strategic action in which one treats others as a natural object, solely as a means to an end. I define the strategic teaching as the kind of teaching in which the teacher treats her students solely as objects, as objects of a series of didactical maneuvers. This strategic teaching is a form of indoctrination (strategic teaching is not the same as indoctrination), when a teacher tries to transfer teaching content to the students’ minds, treating them merely as passive objects, not as active co-subjects of the learning process. Then the teaching is in no sense the simulation of the communicative action but the pure strategic action.

I define the communicative teaching, which is based on “The Bildung as a human teaching situation” (“Bildung als menschlich gültig Situation,” Schäfer and Schaller 1976, p. 57), as contradictory to the strategic teaching. The aim is a communicatively competent student who does not need to rely on the teacher or any other authority for that matter. In communicative teaching, students are not treated as passive objects but as active learners. In communicative teaching, a teacher and her students cooperatively participate in the formation of meanings and new perspectives. In communicative teaching, the teacher does not impose her ideas on the students, but rather they make a joint effort to find a meaningful insight regarding the issues at hand. What I refer to as communicative teaching very closely corresponds with Gert Biesta’s “the practical intersubjectivity in teaching.” Biesta does not understand education “as a one way process in which culture is transferred from one (already accultured) organism to another (not yet accultured), but as a co-constructive process, a process in which both participating organism play active role and in which meaning is not transferred but produced” (Biesta 1994, p. 312). Unlike Biesta, I do not consider teaching (no matter how good a teacher is) as a symmetrical communicative action.

Communicative teaching is nearest to the ideal of communicative action that can get in a real teaching situation. Communicative teaching is a simulation of communicative action, a simulation of a free and equal discourse. It is also a simulation of democracy and democratic mode of action. This means that there could be no communicative teaching in the school, if there exists no kind of practice of a school democracy. Nevertheless, pedagogical action essentially remains as an asymmetrical relationship, because the teacher and her students do not share a common level of communicative competence. Only after a person has completed her education (Bildung) is she prepared to engage in the proper communicative action.

However, even my revised version of the method and intention criterion does not recognize the unintentionally or structurally caused indoctrination. Let us take, for example, the Hitler Jugend assembly in Germany in the 1930s. No matter how communicatively orientated the teacher or the Gruppenlieder was, elements of indoctrination were strongly present. The Hitler Jugend was a very effective training institution, and we cannot gain a comprehensive picture of its operations if we restrict our examination to the teachers’ intentions and methods. In some teaching situations, no matter what a teacher’s intentions and methods were, the outcome was still an uneducated (“indoctrinated”) person. Thus, it is clear that we need aspects of the content and the consequence of teaching.

The Content and Consequence Criterion of Empowerment

The starting point in the empowerment content criterion is the constructivist view of knowledge (see, e.g., Berger and Luckmann 1979; Young 1992). Nowadays, teaching cannot be based on the notion that there exists a group of objective facts, which are deposited into students’ minds like money is deposited in a bank. According to the constructivist view, knowledge is constructed through social processes. Knowledge does not imitate outer reality, but rather the system of knowledge is a construction of the reality. When the constructivist nature of knowledge is recognized, higher demands with regard to the teaching content are directed. The teaching content should provide students with opportunities to construct their own creative and multidimensional view of reality. The teaching content should also promote students to engage critical self-reflection. Thus, if we want the teaching content to be non-indoctrinative, the teaching content should contribute to students’ reflectivity toward those meaning perspectives that they have already adopted and toward those that are taught (see Mezirow 1991). The teaching content should not provide any easy answers but rather should improve students’ own power of judgment and capacity for mature deliberation. I consider content that limits students’ meaning perspectives and minimizes as opposed to increases students’ own power of judgment as indoctrinative. In the case of indoctrination, the teaching content tends to keep students at an immature stage. The non-indoctrinative teaching content gives students both the freedom and faculty to determine their own differentiated identity, world view, and conduct of life.

The consequence criterion of empowerment is related to the theories of modern identity and reflective modernity (Beck et al. 1994). The idea of this criterion is to promote such kind of education that contributes to the formation of reflective and relatively open identities. In modern societies, identities are open to a certain extent. In every society, some part of identity is solid as a result of primary socialization, but in modern societies, the individual tends to remain somewhat incomplete. The modern individual is conscious of her capacity to change her own identity, and she possesses the perspective of many possible identities. This relatively open form of identity produces the pluralization of life worlds and meaning perspectives. People tend to grow up differently in modern societies. This corresponds with the situation that Emile Durkheim called organic solidarity (Durkheim 1984). In the stage of organic solidarity, society needs autonomous, independent, critical, and professional individual personalities. My claim is that if educational institutions tend to systematically produce closed identities (which are necessary in a traditional society during the stage of mechanical solidarity), we can presume that these institutions impose some form of indoctrination. In modern or postmodern society, educational institutions should encourage a reflective attitude toward one’s own identity.


Habermas’s theory of communicative action could be a very important – but not sufficient – contribution to the theory of indoctrination. Robert Young was the first to apply Habermas to the theory of indoctrination, but Young’s concept of indoctrination has its own inherent problems. Young’s theory concentrates solely on the speech acts of the teacher, which should not be the point in the theory of indoctrination. This is why I present here a revised version of the Habermasian concept of indoctrination and I also supplement it with the content and consequence criterion of empowerment. I have to say that my critique toward Young concerns only a small portion of his larger critical theory of education. With the exception of this concept of indoctrination, I am very much in agreement with Young.

My revised Habermasian version of the concept of indoctrination requires the application of a proper theory of a subject and its genesis. The question is: How does a human grow into a mature person with the capacity for critical self-reflection and self-knowledge? Neither Habermas’s theory of communicative action (which includes the socialization theory) nor the traditional analytic philosophy of education (and English sociology of education) provide the theory of a social subject.

Another problem is the question of power in education. According to Michel Foucault:

The individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an ‘ideological’ representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called ‘discipline’. (Foucault 1992, p. 194)

Foucault poses a great challenge to the theory of indoctrination. If the Foucaultian illustration is the whole truth about individuality, then the critique of indoctrination is impossible. My aim is to create a critical theory of education that takes into consideration both the aspect of freedom and the aspect of power in the process of socialization.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TurkuTurkuFinland
  2. 2.University of JoensuuJoensuuFinland