What is indoctrination and how is it different from regular instruction? Indoctrination, suggests Christina Hoff Summers, is characterized by three features, the major conclusions are assumed beforehand, rather than being open to question in the classroom; the conclusions are presented as part of a ‘unified set of beliefs’ that form a comprehensive worldview; and the system is ‘closed,’ committed to interpreting all new data in the light of the theory being affirmed.

Whether this account gives us sufficient conditions for indoctrination, and whether, so defined, all indoctrination is bad college pedagogy, may certainly be debated. According to these criteria, for example, all but the most philosophical and adventurous courses in neoclassical economics will count as indoctrination, since undergraduate students certainly are taught the major conclusions of that field as established truths which they are not to criticize from the perspective of any other theory or worldview; they are taught that these truths form a unitary way of seeing the world; and, especially where microeconomics is concerned, the data of human behavior are presented as seen through the lens of that theory. It is probably good that these conditions obtain at the undergraduate level, where one cannot simultaneously learn the ropes and criticize them–although one might hope that the undergraduate will pick up in other courses, for example courses in moral philosophy, the theoretical apparatus needed to raise critical questions about these foundations.