Thursday 10 January 2013


In the blog Magic Words, I discussed the way that the phrase 'right to decide' was being used in Catalan politics, and suggested that there are words and phrases which are automatically Good - while at the same time there are words and phrases which are automatically Bad, and to be avoided at all costs. The former I called MagicWords ® , and the latter Boo!Words ®, promising to come back to these later ...


So let's consider a Boo!Word ® in IB terms. I have not scrupulously checked, but I would bet that the following sentence does not occur anywhere in any IB document: "The IB wishes to indoctrinate students in the values of Western Enlightenment thought". Test #1 -Spot the Boo!Word ® ? Well done - it's 'indoctrinate'. The IB surely doesn't do anything as despicable, as morally questionable, as 'indoctrinate' people, does it? That would be like saying: "The IB wishes to brainwash students with the values of Western Enlightenment thought", wouldn't it ?


But ... but ... the IB does insist on certain values, doesn't it? Like open intellectual debate, academic honesty, tolerance of other points of view, respect for logical argument, an insistence on supporting statements with evidence ... and if those don't add up to 'Western Enlightenment values', then I've been reading the history of a different planet. All of this seems to be an integral part of critical thinking and TOK - and in turn fundamental to what we should be teaching, and how we should teach.


Of course, the verb 'to teach' is one of the most irregular in the English language. Viz :-

I teach values

You train attitudes

He/she/it creates prejudices

We stand up for what is right

You impose rules

They indoctrinate (or: brainwash [colloq.] )

The underlying point of this Curious Conjugation is that all teaching involves modifying behaviour, and more particularly mental behaviour - otherwise, what's the point? Put frankly, all teachers interfere with their students' minds, and the IB's Subject Guides are manuals to direct that interference in carefully-planned global ways. So the reality is that, yes, the IB is involved in the indoctrination business, and personally I don't have a problem with that since I do indeed believe in all those Western Enlightenment values.


Unfortunately, recognising honestly and openly that the IB is concerned with modifying students' minds according to a particular value-system would still not avoid 'indoctrinate' being a Boo!Word ® . The defining Boo! factor is that 'indoctrinate' contains a key implication of 'denying choice' - in two respects: (a) indoctrination is done to people whether they choose it or not, and (b) indoctrination, if efficient, denies the ability to choose anything other than what has been indoctrinated. Both of those elements are fundamentally opposed to the Enlightenment approach, so the IB could never use 'indoctrinate', as being TooBoo! .


So how could we honestly express the IB's aims of modifying minds, in a politically correct way? Test #2 - Spot the best non-Boo!Word ® version :


A "The IB wishes to impose on students the values of Western Enlightenment thought"

B "The IB wishes to train students in the values of Western Enlightenment thought"

C "The IB wishes to propose to students the values of Western Enlightenment thought"

D "The IB wishes to suggest to students the values of Western Enlightenment thought"


And the answer is ... yes, C! Because if the IB proposes ('suggest' would be too optional), students can still dispose - very Enlightenment.


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