All education is indoctrination. It’s just a question of whether children are taught sound doctrine or false doctrine. I’ve heard schools boast, “We don’t teach kids what to think. We teach them how to think.” But to put the what and the how against each other as if they were opposed is folly. There is no how without the what. There is no method without content. I’m not the least bit ashamed to say that at Mount Hope Lutheran School we teach kids what to think. And I’m not ashamed to say this because we as Christians hold to objective truth and objective reality. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” That’s a what, and a very important what, a what that influences how we view all of life. “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” There’s another what, a what without which we would be lost forever. “You shall have no other gods” is a what, and to talk about the how of having a god—without talking about which god—makes as much sense as saying, “You gotta have faith.” Faith in what? Without the right what, the how doesn’t even matter.
The what of education must be primary. Even places that pretend to exalt the how over the what know this. Education has content. And in fact, the what determines the how. If I’m taught, for example, that there are more than two genders, that gender can change, and that people can choose their gender, that is going to influence how I think about men and women, and it’s going to be a faulty, relativistic way of thinking that does not correspond either with the Word of God or the created world. If I’m taught that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27), that likewise is going to influence how I think about men and women, and it’s going to be a right way of thinking that accords with reality. Get the what right and the right how follows.
The Christian Church has always exalted the what, because the what of Christianity is the very Word of God. The Word of God tells us the truth: about God, about ourselves, about time and eternity, about sin and redemption—about everything. This is why students memorize Scripture, as well as faithful expositions of Scripture, such as the Small Catechism and good hymns. We want our children to know the truth, to believe it, to live according to it. That truth is their life and salvation. And when they know what to think, that what teaches them how to think.