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Teaching the 21st Century

Propaganda Education in a Digital Age: A Teaching Demonstration

By Renee Hobbs

‚ÄúTeaching the 21st Century‚Ä̬†Conference,¬†Avon Old Farms School,¬†April 7 - 8, 2023

Overview. People have been recognizing, resisting, and falling for the allure of propaganda since well before the time of the Sophists in ancient Greece. But propaganda is a word with a bad reputation, a term that is often associated with totalitarian regimes. In schools, many educators keep discussions of propaganda comfortably in the past, exploring it only when studying World War II Germany. Given the complex political context of today, how can contemporary propaganda be productively studied in the elementary school, the high school and the college classroom?  In this session, I introduce four key ideas for teaching about contemporary propaganda: (1) propaganda takes many genres and forms; (2) propaganda is in the eye of the beholder; (3) propaganda can be beneficial or harmful; and (4) we are all propagandists now. In this session, I model engaging instructional practices to examine these concepts and offer insights from my experience teaching propaganda to students and K-12 teachers from across the United States and around the world. 

Resources Used in This Session 

1. Overview: Teaching Propaganda of the 21st Century

2. Sample Lessons

Source: Hobbs, R. (2021). Mind Over Media: Propaganda Education for a Digital Age. W.W. Norton. 

The study of 21st century propaganda provides plentiful opportunities to address values and ethics through the framework of media literacy education. As people activate critical thinking skills in recognizing and responding to propaganda, they increase autonomy and personal freedom. Learners can use the power of inquiry, dialogue, and reflection to evaluate propaganda’s explicit and implicit claims. As people understand how propaganda works, they are empowered to become propagandists themselves by creating and sharing media. In using the power of communication and information to make a difference in the world, they have an opportunity to deepen awareness of the moral and ethical tensions that are built into the practice of persuasion. But the pedagogy of propaganda education can be controversial, and it must be designed and implemented with care, so that it does not turn into indoctrination. Teaching and learning about propaganda is relevant for every learner, in every discipline or field of study, from kindergarten to graduate school, and across the life span, in and out of school.