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T.R. Amsler
Journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Propaganda: You Better Believe It




Propaganda: You Better Believe It

T.R. Amsler of Tennyson High School’s Community Multimedia Academy in Hayward, Calif.

T.R. Amsler
Multimedia Academy of Tennyson High School
Hayward, Calif.

Title: Propaganda: You Better Believe It

Description of School and Students

This curriculum is designed for a 10th- to 12th-grade journalism class at a diverse high school of 2,000 students outside San Francisco. Students had to apply and be accepted to be part of journalism. Half the class has taken journalism before. The majority of our time is spent producing the school newspaper.

Generative Topic

Propaganda

Generative Object

A past article from our school newspaper

Understanding Goals

  • Essential or Guiding Question
    • Does propaganda still exist? As journalists, how do we get past propaganda in our research and in our reporting.
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • Can we find examples of propaganda in the city or national media?
    • What influence does propaganda have on citizens?
    • How have we encountered propaganda in our research and how do we get past it?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

Last year I was struck by the experience from one of our reporters who was interviewing the school district’s superintendent. While the reporter asked questions about firings and new appointees at the district office, she kept being answered with phrases like, “the journey to achievement” and “all means all.” At the time the reporter did not know how to question the policies behind these nice slogans and had proposed a title for the article: “District Restructures on ‘Journey to Achievement.’ "

In dealing with complex issues my students were being consistently manipulated by propaganda. This lesson plan is an attempt to help students see beyond slogans and propaganda to investigate the policy issues beneath. Also, students will be better able to critically examine the media they use, and the sources they rely upon.

Initial two activities can absorb an hour or hour and a half class. Activity three, researching and writing an essay, could be a timed writing piece of a full process essay over a few days.

Activity 1

  • Two students will perform a brief role play based on the scenario outlined above. As a whole class students will brainstorm questions for the reporter who is about to interview the superintendent on restructuring. Then a volunteer will interview the superintendent played by the teacher. The teacher provides ambiguous but pleasing responses that talk about all students being on the road to success and how we’re putting children first, and that we listen to parents.
  • Debrief by writing a chart on the wall. What we know and what we don’t know. Facilitate the conversation to uncover what the reporter really learned.
    • Were they able to uncover specific policies the new superintendent will implement?
    • How will the superintendent put all students on the road to success? What about special needs students? Monolingual parents?
  • Begin talking about what questions could have elicited more specific answers.

Activity 2

  • Students read two short chapters from Noam Chomsky’s Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, “Early History of Propaganda” and “Public Relations.”
  • The class discusses the chapters. Talking specifically about history of propaganda and then rereading the paragraph that begins on page 20 and finishes on page 21. He writes:

    In fact, what does it mean if somebody asks you, Do you support the people in Iowa? Can you say, Yes, I support them, of No, I don’t support them? It’s not even a question. It doesn’t mean anything. That’s the point. The point of public relations slogans like “Support our troops” is that they don’t mean anything. They mean as much as whether you support the people in Iowa. Of course, there was an issue. The issue was, Do you support our policy? But you don’t want people to think about that issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about. So you people arguing about support for the troops? “Of course I don’t not support them.” Then you’ve won. That’s like Americanism and harmony. We’re all together, empty slogans, let’s all join in, let’s make sure we don’t have these bad people around to disrupt our harmony with their talk about class struggle, rights and that sort of business.

  • We’ll connect Chomsky’s example, “Support our Troops,” to examples from our school board, “all means all,” and the “journey to achievement.” We’ll discuss how these slogans can obscure the policy, politics, and reality behind the propaganda. We’ll discuss a reporter’s responsibility to the public.

Activity 3

  • Students find an example of propaganda in a newspaper. It could be a slogan used uncritically by a reporter, or it may show how a reporter uncovers the issues behind the slogan. Students cut out the article, and write an essay that draws on quotes from the article to examine the presence of propaganda in an article.

Assessment

  • Class participation and engagement will be evaluated during the first two activities.
  • For the final assessment students will be evaluated on the article they have chosen for its relevance to the theme (their justification should be clear in the essay) and on their content, clarity, and adherence to the standards outlined by the English department.

Resources

  • Chomsky, Noam. "Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda." New York: Seven Stories Press, The Open Pamphlet Series, 1997.



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