Referendum Indoctrination

I went leafleting last night with my two year old boy. I would get to the gate, hand him a leaflet and walk down the path with him to the door. I would risk my fingers propping open the letterbox and he would slide them in. He loved it. He was Postman Bear and I was proud of how focused he was. There was no wondering off, he make a break for the road only twice, and he was keen to do “one more, one more”. He was enthusiastically pointing and “counting” the houses we’d done. It was a fun game for him and the work was getting done.

I felt bad when we got to my neighbour. She opened the door to say hello to my son. She bent down and accepted the leaflet from him. The leaflet has two arrows pointing toward happy people and sad bullied people. We had been testing this device on my son by asking him which path looked nicest. It worked, Vote Leave looked nicest but he obviously picked up that we were pleased with this. When presenting the leaflet he pointed and said “that way”, as if telling my neighbour how to vote. Gosh I thought. This looks like indoctrination!

We carried on down the street. He ran past a few gates but whatever, as long as he was happy. I was also happy to skip a few doors because I wanted to get to the end of the road. There, there are three houses in a row with signs: a house with “Vote Remain” in Labour colours. A more patriotic house with two or three “Stronger In” signs, and another house with two teeny tiny “Independence Day” themed Vote Leave signs – barely visible by comparison. There was a mini-referendum war happening and I wanted the back of our leaflets – designed to work as a sign – to go to work on the right side. I handed over two copies to the Leaver lady – guessing she’d make use of a spare. The Stronger In folks weren’t around but the leaflet went through anyway. The Labour Vote Remain house were apparently inside at the back. The leaflet went through and I started taking my boy home – it was the last door in the row and he was tired by then. Job done.

What happened next made me feel better about the indoctrination thing.

I heard a noise and turned. The whole Vote Remain family had come out. A young kid, possibly 12, was holding the leaflet. The mum had a face like a turd had just arrived in the mail, rather than an opposing opinion. Dad obviously thought I’d been cheeky putting the leaflet through their red emblazoned door. The boy was confused and shy. They were clearly out looking for the source of the turd and had dismissed the man holding a baby. “That was our leaflet” I volunteered. This all happened very quickly and I don’t remember much in the way of words but it was obvious they wanted the leaflet to come back. The boy came over and held it out. “Er.. you can put it in the bin if you want but I’d be grateful if you read it”, I said. He took it back. Good, nice one. But that was not the end of it. “No no. The leaflet has to go back. We’ve made our decision”, said Stern Dad, pointing to his big red sign. “OK”, I said, taking the leaflet back again.

The kid had taken the leaflet and seemed curious. He’d glanced at it. Shrugged at the idea of reading as if he might just do so, and that is wasn’t a big deal. But Stern Dad had insisted he give it back. It was not good enough for his bin. There was no danger in his Dear Son reading it. Frankly, this seemed like indoctrination – proper indoctrination – where the alternatives are denied.

The controversial leaflet went through a letterbox which we’d skipped. Leaver Lady put both leaflets in her own windows. The war continues.


  1. Simon I suspect that you live in London . The place of the “Evening Standard” and other pro E.U. propaganda sources.

    No “Remain” posters up here in Kettering. Just “Vote Leave” ones.

    At last I have a reason to be proud of my home town.



  2. “We had been testing this device on my son”
    By God, how scientific and representative that testing method is, asking a child who is just two years old “which path looked nicest”…
    “by asking him which path looked nicest. It worked, Vote Leave looked nicest but he obviously picked up that we were pleased with this. When presenting the leaflet he pointed and said “that way”, as if telling my neighbour how to vote. Gosh I thought. This looks like indoctrination!”
    It doesn’t JUST looks like indoctrination : IT IS!!
    Using a two year old child to promulgate and distribute a political viewpoint, from whichever side, is as morally bankrupt as using the image and story of a slain MP for a “cause”.



      1. Asinine reply Simon…

        Obviously I DID read the First and Second paragraphs (and indeed, your whole article) as my reply contains quotes from both paragraphs with my opinion.

        My “opinion” has changed not one jot, but to enlarge, I further believe that YOU influenced which of the two choices he could make by your reaction to his choice, “Vote Leave looked nicest BUT HE OBVIOUSLY picked up that WE WERE PLEASED WITH THIS” (my capitals of your words).

        Indoctrination by “reaction” is no different to words, be they soft or harsh.
        EVERYTHING a parent says or does IS indoctrination, albeit for any perceived good or bad reasons and is totally unavoidable, if one has a child.


      2. He does not respect my opinion about whether he should eat toothpaste so I doubt he has been indoctrinated by me on very much of interest. Whether one figure or another in a drawing look happy is not a controversial thing. It is basic appreciation of art.

        I notice you have spared entirely the guy who denied his child access to alternative ideas, despite insisting you read about it, and that speaks volumes.

        To be honest about this though, there are things I care deeply about – such as self-interest – that I will be teaching him. Given the amount of his life he will spend satisfying the enforced demands of others, I will do that for his own good – exactly as I do when I tell him toothpaste is not to be eaten. I am sure people disagree and who will call that indoctrination, but people with truncheons and toothpaste have a lot in common and will be treated the same way. I will teach him not to swallow toothpaste and I will teach him not to sit idle when people organise themselves to throttle and stifle his happiness for the sake of their own.


    1. Horsefeathers. If you’re not trying to teach what you believe are good values or good practices, you are not doing your job as a parent.

      There seems to be some strange idea that you can keep your children alive for 18 years or whatever without any influence from you, and that the child upon reaching the Age of Majority will then be tabula rasa to pick any values and practices that seem okay to him.

      In the first place, how contrary to Reality is that!

      In the second place, even if it were physically possible to be that kind of parent, which it isn’t, the kid would still have been influenced by whatever outside influences influenced him. [Sic! I meant what I wrote.] Or perhaps he should be locked in his room with no contact with anyone (nor with any books, TV, or other medium of communication or expression — such as a painting) until Age 18.

      The locking-up would obviously be abusive (in fact cruel, and quite likely the child would not survive physically if this treatment began at birth — even if somehow he could be fed in infancy without human contact to “mould” him in this direction or that).

      But short of that, even if you tried not to influence/teach/”indoctrinate” your kid at all, you would terribly at fault for not trying to give him the intellectual and emotional skills to tell the good outside influences from the bad, and to resist the latter.

      Simon, I applaud your work together with young Master Gibbs. I enjoy the thought of the two of you going out together to do Important Grown-up Work. I wouldn’t worry about “indoctrination” — in the real world it’s unavoidable, and your job as a parent is to maintain an atmosphere that is open to experience and inquiry. And if you do that — you will be “indoctrinating” him to accept experience and open inquiry as a practical and an intellectual value.

      You’re doing fine.



      1. No Julie, a parent is not supposed to teach kids that stuff.

        Leave them as blank pieces of paper for the state education system to write upon.



    2. What kind of a parent doesn’t pass on his/her knowledge and experience to his/her child?
      That’s called neglect.
      Indoctrination is when a parent doesn’t allow the child to hold any other opinion than his own, which in this case is the neighbour who prevented his child from learning about a different point of view.



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