Distinguishing Education from Propaganda

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There’s something about true education that is just GOOD…intrinsically good. We are built with a need to LEARN. To feed ourselves with ideas that are filled with truth and goodness and beauty.

There’s a danger though. We can think we are educating ourselves, when in fact we are taking on board something else that’s called propaganda. What’s the difference between education…and propaganda? How do we tell the difference?

The Oxford dictionary defines propaganda as “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

There’s a lot of this in the public domain today. Sometimes it feels like everyone is out to persuade us of something! Well…I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do persuasion.

 

So – what’s the difference between these two? How do we tell healthy education apart from misleading propaganda? Let’s inform ourselves…so we know what we are feeding on.

I heard this discussion with Ken Samples, and found it very helpful.[1]

 

 

Education promotes learning, Propaganda is all about manipulation and distortion

We can learn by ourselves, or a teacher can instruct us. Either way…true learning is something done by an individual. A teacher’s job is to help the student in their self discovery. The teacher’s not there to manipulate or distort the issues. That’s simply passing on propaganda.

 

Education introduces the controversies and disagreements, Propaganda shields people from disagreement

This comes up a lot in religious groups. There are many theories about God, for example. To be an educator, involves exposing people to the truth of that so that we can understand why not everyone agrees.

It’s important that historic Christianity has been challenged on what it believes, because in responding to these controversies, it has clarified what the Christian position is on important issues (like the identity of Jesus).

There’s a danger that Christians can lapse from education into propaganda. Because we want people to believe the truth of the gospel, we can choose to air brush out the disagreements that have occurred in the past. We’re not being malicious – we don’t want to confuse anyone.

BUT – at the same time – we’re still passing on propaganda, not true education.

 

Education teaches the strengths and weaknesses of a position, Propaganda only focuses on the strengths

 

Education teaches you HOW to think, propaganda teaches you WHAT to think

Unfortunately, when we have been fed a continue diet of propaganda, we become people with very narrow views.

The more you educate yourself, the wider the issues open up for you and the more reasonable a position you can adopt and then defend.

 

Education involves talking about consequences, Propaganda just talks about the advantages

We see this all the time in advertising. Because there’s only a short time window in which to sell their product to us, they do the best job of focussing solely on the reasons why we should buy their product.

But there are going to be positive and negative consequences to choosing this product. And education about its value will look honestly at both.

 

Education encourages inquiry and dialogue, Propaganda discourages inquiry and dialogue

When you are listening to someone talk, ask yourself…what is their intention?

Are they saying, “I just want you to accept my view?” Or are they seeking to persuade while at the same time encouraging you to do your own work exploring this area?

A true educator – wants us to do our own enquiry…to engage with these issues and reach our own conclusions. To become people who engage in critical thinking.

 

Education is focused on the individual, Propaganda is focused on the masses

We see this played out in Nazi Germany. There was a concerted program there of making the state big in everyone’s minds, while the individual was actually minimized. What value are my opinions, when everyone else is saying this?

Joseph Goebbels said “Tell a lie long and loud enough, and people will believe it.”

This is the ad populum fallacy…a proposition must be true because most people believe it. Yes – most people believe it. But they just might be very wrong.

 

Conclusion

People are built to take on education. This is good and right. Yet we need to learn to distinguish between true education, and mere propaganda. We need to be able to tell the difference…so we can recognize propaganda when we hear it. And choose to reject the unhealthy ideas and seek what’s true, good and beautiful instead.

As a Christian, I want to help people to grow in discernment, to become fair minded lovers of the truth. This means that I must carefully avoid the trap of propaganda…and instead become a true educator.

 

Image from Pixabay, https://www.pexels.com/photo/good-idea-text-40382/.

[1] Straight Thinking: Education vs Propaganda, Reasons to Believe, January 2, 2018, http://reasons.org/explore/multimedia/rtb-podcast/read/rtb-podcast/2018/01/02/education-vs-propaganda, accessed January 15, 2018.

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Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

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