Teaching about Propaganda Techniques—Opening the Door to Critical Thinking

As educators and parents, we should teach students how to think, not what to think. We need to present all sides of issues and encourage debate. Propagandists, on the other hand, build the strongest possible case for their views and discourage discussion. Propaganda appeals to its audience in three ways. It
  • calls for an action or opinion that it makes seem wise and reasonable.
  • suggests that the action or opinion is moral and right.
  • provides a pleasant feeling, such as a sense of importance or of belonging.
The website Propaganda is an excellent resource for exploring this subject. Aaron Delwiche, the author of the site, holds a doctorate in communications from the University of Washington and a B.A. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University.

As Delwiche states, "propaganda can be as blatant as a swastika or as subtle as a joke. Its persuasive techniques are regularly applied by politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behavior. Propagandistic messages can be used to accomplish positive social ends, as in campaigns to reduce drunk driving, but they are also used to win elections and to sell malt liquor."

Delwiche explains the importance of teaching students about propaganda, presents common propaganda techniques and common fallacies, and provides examples of propaganda in both print and video.

PBS has a list of propaganda techniques with examples.

Suggested Activities
  • Have students collect advertisements and analyze what, if any, propaganda techniques were used.
  • Apply propaganda techniques to current political discussions or to a unit in history being studied.
  • Discuss how the use of technology has affected the use of propaganda.
  • Have students take a stand on a topic of their choosing. Individually or in small groups, have them create an advertising campaign that uses a set of propaganda techniques.

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