January 23, 2011

Education: socialization or propaganda?

In “Semantics of Propaganda,” Black specifically referenced two differing views of education in society:
In 1929, Martin had a more optimistic view of education, calling it “independence of judgment” over telling people what to think. Gordon (1971) called education, or at least most books and teachers, “inherently propagandistic” and Ellul (1964/65) defined “sociological propaganda” – the adaptation of society to a certain order of things, or molding individuals to conform to society – much like the term “socialization” in education.
Calling education “propaganda,” if for no other reason than its connotation, is a touchy subject and not one I’d be willing to bring up to the PTA. But its surprising how often the word is thrown around.

One of the biggest debates continuing in education started in 1925 with the Scopes “Monkey” trial over, of course, teaching about evolution in schools. The arguments have waxed and waned in different parts of the country since then, but seems to have become more heated again. At what point does advocating creationism over evolutionism (yes, I’m biased) become more than expressing your point of view? It leaves out information that a decent part of the population that would agree with (for with either opposing viewpoint), and starts to toe the line of mis-information. But if the better part of the population of the community believes one way or another, socialization according to that viewpoint makes sense, right?

As for the rampant derogatory use of the term “propaganda” to denote “what the other guy believes”…
I did a quick Google on the terms “evolutionist propaganda,” and I admit I’m a little terrified by the results. I’ll let you replicate this experiment at your own risks. (In the interest of fairness, creationist propaganda yielded a similar result, just a few thousand less results.)

For example, this cute little fella was called propaganda, “swaying” us into thinking that monkeys are what we evolved from (because of the thumbs, I think…).

Its very much a two-sided debate, where each believes they are right and the other wrong. But the issue isn't that simple, and it illustrates the trouble of adding values to the study of propaganda or public diplomacy.

Then again, how often has this plotline been used: kid from semi-conservative, typical middle-class family goes off to college. Comes home a liberal-hippie-socialist, infected by ideas. (Gordon argued, for example, that “one failure of the American educational system is that there is not enough propaganda in the lower grades, and too much in graduate schools.”)

Which is the propaganda – the family and education that made him, or the college professors that changed him?

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Personally, I would put propaganda, socialization, education, public diplomacy, advertising et al on a continuum, or a scale of variables. I don’t think, like Black also discusses, that anything, let alone something as complex as public opinion manipulation, can be defined as right/wrong, true/false, intent/outcome or good/evil. Language simply confines us to our reality.

Big Daddy: http://www.acorscadden.com/creationist-bashing/some-hilarious-creationist-propaganda-big-daddy/
Baby monkey propaganda: http://christwire.org/2009/02/cute-baby-monkey-eating-an-apple-video-is-evolutionist-propaganda/
The Trotsky: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1295072/
Modern Education: http://www.adambohannon.org/edward-hall-education/

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