I usually blog about historical fiction and nonfiction for children and teens, but today I decided to address a topic that has been on my mind for about a year (during the political season) -- how to recognize propaganda and how, or if, this topic is taught in schools.
Lately, folks on social media have been throwing around the term "gaslighting." So I decided to delve into this topic as well because it's a type of propaganda. Personally, I think it's very important for students to be taught how to recognize when someone or a group of people are trying to persuade them (the students) to think a certain way.
This post only scratches the surface of the topic of propaganda. So, please feel free to jump in and leave comments, especially about how this topic is taught in your school. Please include activities you've used with your students.
The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that in the 1600's the definition of "propaganda" was not particular derogatory. It meant "a committee of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for foreign missions." Who knew?
In modern times it has come to mean "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view." (according to the OED)
What resources are there for teachers to educate students about propaganda? Not many, unfortunately. At least, that's what I discovered here in DeKalb County, Georgia. The few library books tend to be focused on propaganda during WWII. For instance, World War II Sourcebook: Propaganda (Charles Samuels, Brown Bear Books Ltd., Tucson, AZ and London: 2011)
This book describes propaganda as "deliberate attempts to influence people's beliefs and actions."
|Original 1939 U.K.|
Wikimedia scan, public domain
According to this book "white propaganda" was what your government produced during the war to reassure you, such as posters in Britain that said: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Photos of leaders acting courageously like the king climbing through bombing rubble. Your government also produced images to inform citizens about the enemy, such as posters in U.S. post offices that showed menacing images of Hitler.
So called "black propaganda" was produced by the enemy and included books promoting leader's world views (Mein Kampf) and parades and rallies to show strength.
I did find a book that is only about propaganda and is not connected to war. The title is: Zoos: Identifying Propaganda Techniques (Terry O'Neill, Greenhaven Press Inc., San Diego, CA: 1990) The reason for the odd title is that this book presents four propaganda techniques that are used to argue whether zoos are good or bad.
- Testimonials -- This technique quotes or paraphrases an authority or celebrity to support an argument whether or not the authority figure knows anything about the topic. For instance, an actor is hired to look and speak like a doctor to promote a medicine.
- Card stacking -- This technique involves distorting or twisting facts or providing facts that are only favorable to your argument. Also, quoting someone incompletely or out of context.
- Scare tactics -- The propagandist says: If you don't do or believe this, SOMETHING TERRIBLE WILL HAPPEN.
- Slanted words and phrases -- This technique uses words that have opinions or emotions built into them. For instance, describing a low-income housing project as a SLUM.
|Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in|
Gaslight, the movie that inspired
the term gaslighting
So, on to gaslighting, a type of insidious propaganda that is described as "a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality." ("Gaslighting: Know It and Identify It to Protect Yourself," Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D.) This article describes interpersonal gaslighting, but social media is currently using the term to describe gaslighting that is being done by politicians and others to influence citizens.
Here is a sample of techniques that gaslighters use:
- They tell blatant lies. Once they tell you a huge lie, you're not sure if anything they say is true, keeping you unsteady and off-kilter.
- They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. You start questioning your reality, thinking maybe they never really said that thing.
- Gaslighters wear you down over time. Exhaustion sets in so that people find it harder and harder to resist the assault on reality.
Several weeks ago I wrote a post on Facebook that elicited a few comments about propaganda that is or was being taught in schools. Here are a few of the comments: