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 propaganda, are 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.
- For logical guidance in discerning challenging claims, see “Logically Questioning Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories.”