How to Discern Education vs. Propaganda

There is a lot of discussion these days about things like fake news, yellow journalism, and political propaganda. There is also a lot of attention given to whether public schools and colleges in our time educate or indoctrinate when it comes to the instruction of their students. So what’s the difference between education and propaganda? Let’s look at seven ways education differs from propaganda.

First, we’ll define three key terms:

Education is the pursuit and discovery of information, knowledge, truth, and wisdom through critical analysis. That process of discovery can be unaided (self-study) or aided (teachers). The goal of education is for the student to develop the ability to form an independent, reasonable judgment of the topics studied.

Indoctrination can mean mere instruction in a given topic, but it often carries the pejorative meaning of inculcating ideas in an uncritical manner. This approach to teaching can be well-intentioned but, from an educational standpoint, it is ultimately not in the best interest of the student because it lacks the necessary critical analysis. Indoctrination stands closer to propaganda than to education.

Propaganda involves the dissemination of information—including biased and misleading information—to get someone to accept a particular agenda, often of a political nature. Propaganda is worse than well-intended indoctrination because it intentionally seeks to manipulate a person into accepting a specific viewpoint or ideology.

7 Ways Education (Analytical Discovery) Differs from Propaganda (Manipulative Persuasion)

A good education strives to incorporate the following seven ideals, practices, and virtues, whereas propaganda denies, ignores, or limits them:

1. Education Emphasizes How to Think Instead of What to Think

Genuine learning requires developing critical thinking skills that can aid the student in analysis and evaluation in order to form a reasonable judgment on a given topic. A good education prepares students to develop the necessary skills to learn to think for themselves. Propaganda tells a person exactly what to think.

2. Education Pursues Objectivity Instead of Subjectivity

A solid approach to learning acknowledges the challenge of human bias and prejudice and seeks to promote a reasonable open-mindedness, an evenhandedness, and a basic fairness when considering issues. Education usually serves to broaden one’s perspective. Propaganda is agenda driven and focuses upon the subjective goal of persuasion and tends to significantly narrow one’s perspective.

3. Education Introduces Controversies (Disagreements) Instead of Shielding Them

Discovering genuine knowledge and truth about life and the world is seldom without controversy and disagreement among people. A good learning environment exposes students to the general and important differences concerning topics and perspectives. Propaganda selectively shields people from controversies.

4. Education Examines Both Sides Instead of Just One Side

When topics are divided between viable positions, a good model of education exposes students to a fair-minded discussion of both sides of a controversial issue. Again, propaganda tends to be manipulatively one-sided in perspective.

5. Education Reviews Strengths and Weaknesses (Pros and Cons) Instead of Just One or the Other

Proposed solutions to problems can be controversial and usually involve potential strengths and weaknesses. A fair-minded approach to learning gets into the practice of examining both the pros and cons of a position. Genuine learning involves knowing both strengths and weaknesses of a viewpoint. Propaganda, on the other hand, is all about persuasion thus the focus is exclusively on either the strengths or the weaknesses. 

6. Education Promotes Honest Intellectual Inquiry Instead of Deception

A proper education stresses the critical importance of the virtue of honesty at every stage of the learning process. Ideas are prized and therefore treated with integrity. Manipulation and deception, hallmarks of propagandaare never acceptable.

7. Education Encourages Dialogue Instead of Monologue

Learning is enhanced by respectful dialogue, discussion, and interaction. Learning under multiple voices is often superior to learning under one voice, as in propaganda.

A good education (unaided or aided) can provide the critical tools to help students gain knowledge, truth, and wisdom. A noble learning experience illumines the human condition and greatly enhances the human experience.

Reflections: Your Turn 

Which of education’s seven ideals, practices, and virtues do you find the noblest? How prevalent is propaganda today? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


  One thought on “How to Discern Education vs. Propaganda

  1. September 4, 2018 at 10:31 am

    So then, by this criteria, science education clearly involves extensive propaganda for Darwinian Evolution.

    • September 4, 2018 at 10:44 am

      Unfortunately, propaganda is always creeping at the door in all disciplines.

      There is a need to be ever vigilant.

      Ken Samples

    • Chris Morris
      September 25, 2018 at 1:50 am

      And, presumably, by your criteria English Literature education clearly involves extensive propaganda for the English language.

      • September 25, 2018 at 1:34 pm

        Chris, respectfully, no, you are making a category error. But if you’d like to point out specifically why you disagree, I am willing to have a conversation.

      • Chris Morris
        September 26, 2018 at 12:15 am

        Hello Lawrence,
        I have to say that ‘category error’ sounds terribly serious and technical so, as I’m hopeless with all of that philosophical jargon, I’ll assume you’re correct in that judgment.
        What I, not so much disagreed with, rather was somewhat surprised by was your confidence in expressing such a sweeping generalisation. Perhaps it’s different on your side of the Atlantic, but I would say that the view in the UK is that science education exemplifies what Kenneth regards as the role of education in that it teaches people to pursue and critically analyse information with an aspiration towards reasonable objectivity in formulating some model of some part of reality.

        Here we tend to view the scientific achievements of the USA with considerable admiration and awe so I’m slightly bewildered as to how that success would be possible if science students there were not being allowed to think for themselves and follow the evidence wherever it happened to lead.

      • September 26, 2018 at 12:35 pm


        Thanks for your comments. I’ve visited Great Britain twice and studied your country’s history for some time.

        There’s a lot Great about Britain.

        I’ll invite Lawrence to respond if he so desires.

        Best regards.

        Ken Samples

      • Chris Morris
        September 26, 2018 at 2:03 pm

        Thanks, Ken – nice to ‘meet’ you, by the way.

      • September 26, 2018 at 6:43 pm

        Hi Chris,

        I can’t speak for the UK, but in the States is it verboten to question Darwinist orthodoxy. Instead, textbooks, articles and literature make sweeping assumptions about what evolution can do without an ounce of justification. Exacerbating the issue is textbooks that are 20 and 30 years out of date with the research using things like Haeckel’s embryo drawing, which were debunked 10 to 15 years ago.

        Instead of academic excellence we have the likes of Eugenie Scott saying, and I quote, “It’s clear the Haeckel may have fudged his drawings somewhat to look more like his ideal than they actually are… now, does that actually take away from what we know about the relationship of embryology to evolution?”

        Consider this article on

      • September 26, 2018 at 6:55 pm

        (hit post to soon; no way to edit. grrh)

        Continuing E Scott’s quote,” … not a bit.”

        Except the entire concept of recapitulation has been thrown out decades ago. In her thinking the embryo drawings were a “useful fiction to demonstrate a point we know to be true.” Except, again, they were the proof, at the time she said this.

        Consider also excerpts from this otherwise excellent article on the respected Cosmos Magazine website, full of hand-wavy, unsubstantiated claims.

        — “… one group shed or internalised their shells.” Just like that, huh?

        — “Their innovations were dazzling. They split their molluscan foot, creating eight highly dexterous arms, each with hundreds of suckers as agile as opposable thumbs.” It’s like magic.

        — “But those limber bodies were a tasty treat to fish predators, so the octopus evolved ‘thinking skin’ that could melt into the background in a fifth of a second.” Objection your honor — assuming facts not in evidence.

        This kind of playing fast and loose with claims of what evolution can do is rife.

      • September 29, 2018 at 4:17 pm

        To: Lawrence
        From: Chris

        Ken, I replied to Lawrence Dol’s response on the conversation thread attached to this article a couple of days ago but it doesn’t seem to have shown up on the blog – presumably I’ve hit the wrong ‘post’ button or something. I would be very upset if Lawrence thinks I’m being rude in not acknowledging his reply so, if I may, I’ll just briefly sketch the main points.
        As I’m not a scientist, I’m not qualified to comment on the arguments for or against evolution but his view of education seems to me unduly pessimistic. I don’t think that education takes place in a vacuum so, presumably, students are aware of the debate over whether alternatives to evolution should be taught with equal scientific weight. Therefore, it seems to me that, even if all of the science teachers in the US education system conspired to suppress any criticism of evolution, this would still not justify the label of ‘propaganda’. From where I’m watching it looks like students are graduating from the education system with a very wide variety of views and the ability to think for themselves by assessing evidence.
        My apologies for taking up space here.

  2. September 4, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    Reblogged this on PChem4all and commented:
    Ken is one of my favorite thinkers and bloggers. I hope you enjoy his latest post:

    • September 4, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      Thanks for the reblog, my friend.

  3. January 23, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    I think it’s impossible to be what’s termed “complete objectivity.” No matter what, as a teacher, my beliefs, which I believe are grounded in common sense, will not necessarily bring agreement with other teachers, parents, and adults, no matter how much I explain and support. People tend to believe what they believe, and challenging their beliefs often brings arguments and resentments. People have many beliefs, some grounded in understanding, but also by their experiences and what they currently see. In this, I look to understand why they believe what they believe, which at times are emotion based (I do believe there are good and bad emotions.).
    As a teacher, I’ve shared (as in history) causes and effects and what makes sense. What I’ve encouraged is the “ah haa” moments: moments when the kids or teens suddenly “see,” understanding deeply. To me, that’s when real education takes place because we see to the core. One could never state it’s right to steal. One might say hunger over-rides right, that to steal in order to feed the family takes precedence. But then a look at previous living experiences would be part of the factor. However, if it was necessary, then repayment must occur as soon as possible. This, I have found, many of our youth understand.
    With regards math and science, what is understood and needed in our country should be shared and taught.

    • January 23, 2019 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks for your comments, dolphinwrite.

      Ken Samples

  4. January 24, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you, Kenneth. We all have learned much over the years. I’m certain, your and others’ views have a lot of merit, your experiences demonstrating support for your honest views. Glad to know others concerned and caring.

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