Evolution / Religion / Science Education / Teaching

Parody or Indoctrination?

A recent visit to the Little Kids’ school, tucked away in rural Ontario, which—I should say from the outset—is a Roman Catholic elementary school, revealed one or two interesting corridor displays.

Let’s take a look at the reason for this post, a visual aid that the publishers market as a parody of social networking and modern culture. Based on subsequent enquiries with the publisher’s sales department, and a bit of a chat with teaching staff, the poster is used in the K–12 curricula of U.K. and North American schools. Figure 1, takes a look…

Figure 1. Illustrating a parody of a social networking user profile for Jesus Christ.


Marketed as a parody of a Facebook® user profile, the 24″×36″ poster, depicted Jesus’ Faithbook profile from http://www.slingshotpublishing.com, © 2008 World Christian Posters Inc. Retrieved from http://projectrainblog.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/faithbook_jesus_large.jpg.

The poster was on display at the lower level of a wall panel, about 9-year-old head height, and situated just before the school’s main hall and dining area. Pupils line-up against the wall for school assemblies, lunch and other events. As a static display, the combination of text and graphics plays to its audience in a constant, almost subliminal fashion. However, a brief chat with teaching staff at St. Mary’s Elementary School (July, 2014), has shown that whilst some may view the poster as a simple display, others have used its contemporary themes as a teaching resource.

The top third of the poster is dominated by the image of Jesus Christ as the stereotypical Caucasian male, whilst the text presents “profile information”.

  • Hometown: The B-dot.
  • School: Nazareth High.
  • Birthday: December 25th (ish).
  • In a relationship with: Approx. 33% of the world.
  • E-mail: pray@home.now.
  • Phone: My iPhone doesn’t get reception up here 😦
  • Favorite Book: The Book of Life (Unabridged Version).
  • Pet Peeves: Those of little faith, Ned Flanders, Performance enhancing drugs [and] WMD’s.

Here we have references to classical Christian doctrine, straight out of the Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible—the Bible. For example, The Book of Life, in which the Bible states that God records the names of every person who is destined for Heaven, or alternatively cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation, 20:15). However, most of the terms used, refer to common items of popular culture: relationship information; the iPhone; a Simpsons character—Ned Flanders—an evangelical Christian parody even my father might recognize; hometown; school; and birthday information. Ranking up my irritation factor, we also have prayer as a method of contact in the e-mail address entry; the negativity attached to notions of sin; and a few more modern issues such as drug use in sports and weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s), are included.

Below the information section, the poster illustrates Family photographs (a silhouette of a classic Christian nativity scene); Dad’s Hobbies (a landscape); the Holy Spirit (a blank box) and Disciples (12). The Mini-Feed of activities reads, “This morning Jesus turned water into a Starbucks non-fat, decaf vanilla latte” and that “Jesus got 322 more friends.” Jesus is listed as a member of several social media groups, most with a theological reference, e.g., Water Walkers and The Trinity. One group is listed as the UnderØath Fan Club, referring to a U.S. Christian rock band from Tampa, Florida.

Entries on The Wall, where regular social media would allow comments from authorized friends and family, are attributed to figures in popular culture, and to biblical characters such as the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. Carrie Underwood, an American country music singer, songwriter, and actress who won the fourth season of American Idol in 2005, is depicted as saying “Could you please take the wheel… again… thanks!—carrie xoxo”. This one raised a smile, since the line refers to her song Jesus, Take the Wheel, in which a mother is about to crash her car and gives control of the vehicle to Jesus. Please folks, don’t try that one at home, no police force or automobile association anywhere recommends letting God drive your car in an emergency. Another musician, the distantly departed John Lennon this time, is quoted as saying, “So… turns out we weren’t as big as you… sorry.” Referring to a quotation taken out of context, from a newspaper interview with the London Evening Standard almost half a century ago (Cleave, 1966).

Chipping away at the scientific literacy of the audience still further, a fabricated line from the ghost of Charles Darwin reads, “Well, ‘I was wrong’ would be the understatement of the century. I think it was Johnny Nash who said, ‘I Can See Clearly Now’.” I suppose this might be referring to the thoroughly discredited, equally fabricated Lady Hope Story, which claimed that—on his deathbed—Darwin had renounced his scientific theory of natural selection in favour of creationism. Darwin’s family have consistently repudiated the story, and it’s been frequently discounted by historians (Dawkins, 2006; Isaac, 2005; Moore, 2005; Yates 2003).

Other friends cited included biblical characters (David of Israel, son of King Solomon and Lazarus of Bethany); All the Children of the World; YOU! and more figures of recent history and contemporary culture, some with attributed quotations:

  • Jeffery Michael “Jeff” Gordon an American professional stock car racing driver who has publicly declared his Christian faith, “Do you know where I could get one them fishes for the back of my car?”
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, “Looks like all the work we did back then really paid off! Thanks for everything! See you at dinner.”
  • Clive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland. Best known for novels such as The Screwtape Letters and his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Robert Holmes “Rob” Bell Jr., an American author and pastor. Founder of Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville.
  • Toby McKeehan (born Kevin Michael McKeehan), better known by his stage name TobyMac (styled tobyMac), a Christian recording artist, music producer, hip-hop/pop artist, singer-songwriter, and author.
  • The David Crowder Band was a six-piece Christian rock and modern worship band from Waco, Texas. They disbanded in 2012, with David Crowder pursuing a solo career.

Lastly, Jesus’ To-Do List contains entries for joining the Red Sox Nation Fan Club; creating an audition tape for the television show Dancing with the Stars; playing Guitar Hero; making a Digital Backup of the Book of Life; and obtaining a WWID bracelet—an adaptation of the What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD) bracelets. You may have seen a few of those in the United States in the 90s, or more recently as a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christian groups.

All of this seems a bit of a joke really, but when you start to think of the exposure that elementary school kids get to this kind of material on a regular basis, you may start to lose your sense of humor. “Building curriculum on children’s interests is an established practice in early childhood education” (Hedges, 2011, p. 25), and from a sociocultural perspective, popular culture can be an effective method in meaningful engagement with children’s interest (Marsh, 2000; Hedges 2011). The text and imagery of each section of the Faithbook poster is tailored to a youthful, pop-culture market. This has been confirmed in a press release by Slingshot Publishing:

After five years of developing the most popular Christian posters in the industry, Slingshot Publishing—formerly known as World Christian Posters—has changed its name and is expanding its product offerings for the youth demographic… Slingshot Publishing President Mike Clark aims to help fill a market niche in gifts for pre-teen to young adults (Clark, 2009, p. 1).

The use of celebrity images and ideas such as Jesus’ hometown, school, use of an iPhone and e-mail directly relate to modern culture as experienced by K–12 students, and contains several messages relating to classical Christian doctrine and modern pop-culture:

  • Jesus Christ was a figure in history, a Caucasian male, born and raised in a known location and point in history.
  • The son of God who observes and takes part in all our lives, and who approves and disapproves of certain aspects of human behaviour.
  • Those who think for themselves and disagree are wrong (and admit it once they have seen the truth—e.g., entries for Charles Darwin and John Lennon).
  • Those who let Jesus lead the way are friends, names to be entered in the Book of Life for ascendency to Heaven, and not to be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation, 20:15).

The experience of repeated exposure to similar media, as static imagery and as part of structured teaching has been discussed by Ellsworth (2005), as being an almost subliminal experience, “of drinking up and swallowing ‘facts’ and ‘information’ in a way that leaves ‘unshakable images’ and ideas that can be remembered ‘warmly’ for 30 years” (p. 22). Giroux and Simon (1989), have discussed the student experience in light of cultural influences:

[T]he way in which student experience is produced, organized, and legitimated in schools has become an increasingly important theoretical consideration for understanding how schools produce and authorize particular forms of meaning and implement teaching practices consistent with the ideological principles of the dominant society. (p. 1)

Given the admissions policy of the Catholic school-board—to which this elementary school subscribes—states, “Where feasible and practical, the Board will accommodate students of the Catholic faith… and for those students of other religions whose parents/guardians desire for them the values espoused by the Board…” (CDSBEO, 2001, p. 1), it is reasonable to assume that Giroux and Simon’s “principles of the dominant society” will include Christian doctrine, if only as part of cultural tradition. Thus, the student experience at this elementary school, can be viewed as reinforcing Giroux and Simon’s “ideological principles of the dominant society”.

Giroux and Simon (1989) argued that, “What is often ignored is the notion of pedagogy as a cultural production and exchange that addresses how knowledge is produced, mediated, refused, and re-presented within relations of power both in and outside of schooling” (p. 2). This sociocultural production and exchange of dominant ideologies is intrinsic to the pedagogical experience surrounding the Faithbook poster. Students are motivated to absorb its messages by connections to popular culture (Hedges, 2011; Marsh 2000). Knowledge is produced in the subliminal manner discussed by Ellsworth (2005) or directly when used as a teaching resource, and may be mediated, re-presented or refused in favour of the dominant ideology of Christian doctrine, e.g., evolution by natural selection rejected in favour of creationism.

Freire (2008), has discussed the implications of a dominant sociocultural influence stating, “Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression” (p. 248). Freire asserts that a “banking concept” of education, which he describes as “(at best) [a] misguided system” (p. 243), perpetuates ignorance and maintains the status quo of the dominant influence. Freire stated, “The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed” (p. 243). Freire claimed that by assuming the roles of teachers as depositors and students as receptors, the banking concept thereby changes humans into objects. Humans (as objects) have no autonomy and therefore no ability to rationalize and conceptualize knowledge at a personal level. And because of this initial misunderstanding, the method itself is a system of oppression and control.

As an alternative to the dehumanization of the “banking concept” Freire (2008) introduced what he termed as “problem-posing education”. Freire argued that this approach would allow the roles of students and teachers to become less formal, both would engage in a problem-solving journey to gather knowledge from each other. Such a system would illustrate that students and teachers never fully complete such a journey:

Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming—as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality. Indeed, in contrast to other animals who are unfinished, but not historical, people know themselves to be unfinished; they are aware of their incompletion” (Freire, 2008, p. 251).

Their learning, their internal self-analysis, the “complicated conversation” regarding the curriculum of their lives is evolving, but in K–9 or even K–12, it is still immature. At elementary school levels particularly, it is questionable that students will have developed a sufficiently mature, articulate, internal dialog with which to interrogate their learning. As Pinar (2012) puts it, their “currere”—a self-analysis of educational experiences, an on-going, complicated conversation with oneself as the private intellectual, which allows for growth and interaction with the public sphere of pedagogy. Currereprovides for an intensely personal approach to pedagogical analysis and critique that provides a method for articulating connections between academic and personal knowledge, merging the explicit and the hidden curriculum (Kissel-Ito, 2008). Rather, the younger student would seem more analogous to “the possessor of a consciousness: an empty ‘mind’ passively open to the reception of deposits of reality from the world outside” (Freire, 2008, p. 247).

The Faithbook poster fits well as an example of Freire’s “banking concept”. Free-thought, analysis and problem-solving are not encouraged. Acceptance of doctrine is an apparent aim, at an age when a student cannot give coherent voice to their “complicated conversation” (Pinar, 2012). The result is adaptation “within relations of power both in and outside of schooling” (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. 2).

In a recent study, Long (2011) followed a group of from a Christian background through their first exposure to evolutionary science at college level. He found that these students experienced varying levels of existential anxiety when challenged by evolutionary science to move beyond the absolutism of theological dogma, as one interviewee expressed:

I did ask my mom one time, ‘What do you think about evolution’? And she just told me, ‘Don’t want to talk about it. Can’t believe you’re even thinking about it’. I mean well—she just told me that if I get into that, and believe in that, that I’m pretty much going to hell—to put [it] bluntly. (p. 74)

The participant went on to explain what evolution means to her:

I feel that it’s true. I mean, you know, growing up in my community, I was taught to not believe that at all, but I mean I can see the science behind it. So I guess that I’m just kind of questioning it all. (p. 74)

Clearly, there comes a point when a students’ analysis of their learning is capable of adjusting for indoctrination and progressing on the basis of empirical problem-solving, as Freire (2008) and Pinar (2012) have discussed—but not without a measure of anxiety and a fundamental questioning of the security of their worldview (Long, 2011). K–12 is just too early to ask a student to know the difference between parody and indoctrination.


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