In 2004, I asked Merriam-Webster the following question. Assistant Editor, Jennifer N. Cislo, replied as follows.

Q: The first definition of “indoctrinate” has no connotations, but the second definition, owing to the adjectives “partisan” and “sectarian,” implies negativity. I assume the first definition is more prevalent, since it is first?

A: Actually, Merriam-Webster dictionaries are historical; the sense ordering is based on chronology and not on prevalence or usage, which means the first sense of indoctrinate developed prior to the second sense.

The second sense defines how indoctrinate is used in most contexts. The word “usually” is meant to point out that indoctrinate means “to imbue with (an) . . . opinion, point of view, or principle,” not always but usually partisan or sectarian in nature. This definition is not meant to make any negative or positive comment on the word indoctrinate or on indoctrination itself. It simply reflects how it is used by speakers and writers.

The first sense of indoctrinate is broader in its coverage. There, as you point out, indoctrinate simply means “to instruct.”

Though this sense is first historically, I think it is the less prevalent. Most often when indoctrinate is used today, the speaker is purposefully suggesting an instruction of a sort that is partisan.

Addendum: See also “propaganda.”

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