Am I educating, or am I indoctrinating my students?

Roderick Graham
9 min readSep 19

Teaching how to do social science research can be a boring class — full of vocabulary and abstract concepts. Who can get inspired by exploring the differences between a hypothesis and a proposition? Who can really become invested in knowing the differences between categorical and continuous variables? Does anyone want to calculate a chi-square statistic? Students are more interested in topics — discussions of crime, poverty, families, sports, media, etc.

So, I’ve learned over the years that one way to spice things up in my research methods course is to bring controversial topics into the classroom.

A recent lesson in my course was to show the differences between ideology and theory. I realized that this lesson gave me the opportunity to bring into a class a charged topic: “gender ideology.”

I asked my students to look at the characteristics of ideology — as understood by social scientists. We briefly discussed the information in the chart below. There is an unstated assumption here that ideologies are less preferable to theories — although both attempt to explain the world. Theories are grounded in reality. Ideologies are grounded in morality. Theories are for the nimble and open-minded, while ideologies are for plodding, close-minded people. Theories are rational and reasonable. Ideologies are dogmatic.

I then asked students to think about discussions in the media and politics around the notion of “gender ideology.” And I asked them this question: Is the way many younger people think about sex and gender an ideology?

If these new ideas about gender represent more of an ideology than a set of ideas grounded in science, then maybe they shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Maybe they should not be the basis upon which policies are enacted. Maybe the people adhering to these ideologies need to pump their brakes and not cause damage to people and society by attempting to impose something that amounts to a religion.

So, this question, while ostensibly about giving students the opportunity to discuss the characteristics of ideologies, is also speaking to…

Roderick Graham

Gadfly | Professor of Sociology at Old Dominion University | I post about social science, culture, and progressive politics | Views are my own