It’s election year in Canada and a feverish pre-election year for our neighbour to the south. As political ads, videos and social media posts explode across our collective vistas, we address the thorny question: What is propaganda and how do we deal with it as teachers? In general terms, propaganda is information presented in a deliberately biased, often emotional rather than objective, fashion, with the purpose of influencing an audience. It does not pretend to present all sides of a position, but uses facts selectively to enhance and exaggerate with the purpose of furthering an agenda. It is important for students to know how to identify and interpret the many kinds of propaganda, and for teachers to teach to that end.

Fortunately, lessons on propaganda abound. Here are some links to sites to help you and your students deal with the deluge to come.

  • Why Propaganda Education MattersVia downloadable PDF files, Mind over Media offers eight 45-minute lesson plans covering everything from defining propaganda (eight different definitions), recognizing propaganda techniques and when to “Share or not to Share.”
  • Propaganda and Critical Thinking The website Just add students offers videos to teach grades 5 – 7 about propaganda, using everyday commercials. They suggest that you start with what students already know, and ask them to link slogans with the associated company; for example, “I’m lovin’ it!” (McDonalds)
  • Propaganda and SpinThis civics website provides highly detailed lessons focused on civics and political propaganda. In their words, “…students explore propaganda techniques as well as the concept of ‘spin’ and discuss how politicians use these techniques to sway public opinion. Students will identify propaganda used in past and current ads and create their own advertisement using an assigned propaganda technique. Students will also examine how politicians spin current events to suit their own agendas and will assume the role of a prominent political figure’s communication representative who is responsible for spinning news events.”
  • Unit: Redefining How We Teach PropagandaA news article this past week noted a significant rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. Perhaps the most startling revelation was that more than 30% of those spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric had never heard of or had no knowledge of The Holocaust. To counter this type of ignorance, the United States Holocaust Museum has prepared a downloadable PDF lesson focused on the Nazis’ use of propaganda to initiate its genocidal program. They say, “These lessons provide an opportunity for teachers to use a new framework for teaching propaganda. Where traditional methods focus on identifying propaganda techniques, this approach encourages more profound critical thinking and reflection.”
  • Propaganda: What’s the Message?The site icivics.org requires that you become a registered user to access their lesson plans, designed to achieve these learning objectives: “Students will be able to…
    • Differentiate among forms of persuasive media.
    • Identify bias, propaganda and symbolism in media.
    • Identify forms of propaganda in use.”
  • Teaching propagandaTo be taken as “Teaching about propaganda,” The New York City Department of Education has produced a “…six-lesson unit on contemporary propaganda, designed for upper middle and high school students. The lessons are designed to help students understand the many definitions of propaganda, propaganda techniques, the contexts in which propaganda thrives, virality and its role in the dissemination of contemporary propaganda. Shared by the Media Education Lab.”

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