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An analysis of proganda as a keyword in education
Propaganda Fitzmaurice
Brock Education Journal, 27(2), 2018
Katherine Fitzmaurice
Brock University
This essay looks at how the definition and use of the word propaganda has evolved throughout history. In
particular, it examines how propaganda and education are intrinsically linked, and the implications of
such a relationship. Propaganda’s role in education is problematic as on the surface, it appears to serve
as a warning against the dangers of propaganda, yet at the same time it disseminates the ideology of a
dominant political power through curriculum and practice. Although propaganda can easily permeate
our thoughts and actions, critical thinking and awareness can provide the best defense against falling
into propaganda’s trap of conformity and ignorance.
Keywords: propaganda, education, indoctrination, curriculum, ideology
Katherine Fitzmaurice is a Master’s of Education (M.Ed.) student at Brock University. She is
currently employed in the private business sector and is a volunteer with several local
educational organizations. Her research interests include adult literacy education, issues of
access and equity for marginalized adults, and the future and widening of adult education.
Propaganda Fitzmaurice
Brock Education Journal, 27(2), 2018
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED, 2011) the word propaganda can be traced
back to 1621-23, when it first appeared in “Congregatio de progapanda fide,” meaning
“congregation for propagating the faith.” This was a mission, commissioned by Pope Gregory
XV, to spread the doctrine of the Catholic Church to non-believers. At the time, propaganda was
defined as “an organization, scheme, or movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine,
practice, etc.” (OED). That is, propaganda was originally defined as a form of religious
By early in the twentieth century, around the time of the First World War, the word
propaganda began to define political rather than religious indoctrination, reflecting the shift in
societal power from Church to State (Fellows, 1959). The OEDs definition traces the word’s
evolution: “the systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, in
order to promote a political cause or point of view.” Here propaganda emerges as being political
and partisan in nature, in its attempt to coerce or persuade a mass audience to conform to a
particular point of view.
Historically, propaganda has always been used as an instrument of control and conformity by
the dominant social power. This is what Ellul calls, “propaganda of integration” which he views
as being employed by all modern social systems to encourage all citizens to comply with and
support said system (Silverstein, 1987). Due to its covert, subtle, and unassuming nature,
propaganda functions as a method of social control by using tools of persuasion, manipulation,
and “hidden” or undefined source[s] (Henderson, 1943). Propaganda is also used by
governments to encourage [or coerce] citizens to act and think in accordance with its philosophy
and to uphold and support the contrived image of itself as well as the nation that it seeks to
portray (Koppang, 2009). Propaganda works by “circumvent[ing] individual reasoning and
rational choice” and distracts individuals from making personal assessments of biases in the
propagandist’s reasoning and message (Koppang, 2009, p. 121). It manipulates acceptance by
preying on an individual’s emotions such as, fear, anger, grief, guilt and revenge (Koppang,
2009). Unifying and isolating words such as, “us” and “them” and visuals, slogans, and symbols
are all utilized to hastily attract support to its message without critical thought or reflection on its
meaning (Koppang, 2009).
The first instance of propaganda in formal education to achieve conformity and adherence to
a political agenda occurred in 1917, as American President Wilson integrated his government’s
objectives to garner support for their entry into the First World War by embedding pro-war
literature in the elementary and high school curriculum (Hobbes & McGee, 2015). Since then,
education in North America has been a site of government propaganda campaigns to ensure
compliance, adherence and even enthusiasm towards liberalism and democracy. The issue here is
that readily accepting what is taught in schools upholds this one-sided, pro-government view,
which in turn serves to preserve and promote the current regime, rather than to analyze and
critique its objectives.
Although education is a site for propaganda to thrive, it can also be viewed as a mechanism
for combating propaganda. A common assumption is that if students are taught in school how to
think critically and for themselves, then they will gain the skills necessary to spot deceptive
attempts of coercion and prevent themselves from falling victim to it, as “genuine education
teaches the child ways of the propagandist, so that he may not be ensnared and exploited by
them” (Henderson, 1943, p. 86). This idea that education is fundamentally true and propaganda
is inherently false is problematic as it fails to recognize that propaganda is embedded in
education. The notion that education can prevent students from falling into propagandist traps is
Propaganda Fitzmaurice
Brock Education Journal, 27(2), 2018
also contentious, as education itself is often an exercise in propaganda dissemination and
After a drastic regime change, extensive propaganda campaigns in educational institutions are
used to alter students’ views and in some cases, forces them to forget their own memories and
subscribe to a conflicting perspective as chosen by the new political power (Wang, 2008).
Marjane Satrapi’s memoir Persepolis (2007) details the revision of curriculum content and
teachers’ views to procure allegiance to the new regime in the aftermath of the Iranian
Revolution. Students who spoke up against this contradictory rhetoric (such as Satrapi) were
silenced via punishment for questioning the validity of the new established order. In literary
fiction, George Orwell’s protagonist Winston in his classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is
employed at the Ministry of Truth to rewrite historical documents so that they align with the
views of the new governing Party and Big Brother.
In recent history, the Chinese Communist Party’s “Patriotic Education Campaign” and the
collapse of Communist Russia both in 1991-- required a massive rewrite of these nations’
histories as a means of “de-legitimating previous regimes and in grounding new claims to
political legitimacy” (Wang, 2008, p. 787). As these examples indicate, textbooks and
curriculum in schools are neither neutral nor plural, and they do not foster negotiations with
diverse points of view. Instead, educational institutions tend to disseminate propaganda
(delivered as curriculum) to promote a preferred political, historical, and sociological viewpoint
by the governing body and its elites. In the Southern United States during the early twentieth
century, school textbooks reinforced the dominant white narrative that blacks were inferior and
justified their enslavement and unequal status within the social order (Boardman, 1945).
Textbooks and curriculum disseminate propaganda by dictating how students should think and
act as “national subjects” and how they should view and interact with “outsiders” (Wang, 2008).
The extreme outcome of propagandist depictions of a common enemy to unify citizens in support
of a particular regime and its philosophy can be seen in many conflicts throughout history, such
as in Nazi Germany.
Definitions of propaganda in the field of psychology focus on the persuasive and unconscious
way that propaganda can permeate one’s psyche. The issue here is that, “propaganda’s task is to
mobilize individuals, and uses whatever tools, ideological, economic, or political, will best bring
about that result. The outcome is a disregard for truth and validity” (Kluver, 1995, p. 11-12).
This absence of truth can be seen in the political landscape of today’s world. The events of
September 11th sparked a resurgence of American domestic propaganda, as President George W.
Bush’s subsequent speeches sought to mobilize public support for his “War on Terror”
(Koppang, 2009). American President Donald Trump and his associates coined the phrase
“alternative facts” to encourage public support and acceptance of favourable interpretations of
crime rates, free trade, and events after these “facts” were statistically proven to be untrue
(Bailey, 2017). Thus, political propaganda today can be seen as “lies [that] take many forms,
from rewriting the history taught in schools, to preventing the media from reporting on policy
failures, to relatively innocuous spinning of the economy's performance in press conferences"
(Little, 2016, p. 224). This dissemination of propaganda through “truth” and “facts” yet again
promotes the primary objective of the dominant, governing body: to consolidate and maintain its
Although propaganda has long been a tool of social control, governments have been adept at
avoiding labeling their propaganda campaigns as such, referring to them instead as “national
self-advertisement” or “publicity” which further serves to disguise their intentions and distract
Propaganda Fitzmaurice
Brock Education Journal, 27(2), 2018
citizens from viewing their message as one that is associated with the negative connotations that
accompany the word propaganda (Taylor, 1980). Indoctrinating propaganda in formal education
is a method by which governments can covertly influence a mass and captive audience over an
extended period of time. In this way, the governing body can advance its political philosophies
and agenda as a means of consolidating power through persuasion and a biased perspective, via a
forum in which its true motives remain hidden under the guise of education and scholarship.
Propaganda can also be seen today as a distant mid-twentieth century wartime tactic, with a
hint of nostalgic humour. World War Two propaganda poster prints with Uncle Sam claiming, “I
Want You for the US Army” are widely available for sale online, and paraphernalia bearing
tongue-in-cheek variations of the 1939 British Wartime slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” are
marketed as collectible items (Cooke; "Keep Calm and Carry On"). This cult attraction and
fascination with propaganda as contemporary pop-culture art indicates yet another transition of
the word, this time with a far less threatening connotation. The danger of reducing propaganda to
a trendy and distant product of the past leads us away from the reality that propaganda still lurks
within our social and political institutions, ever attempting to infiltrate our psyches. Although
education promotes critical thinking and the pursuit of reason, at its core is the motive to
manipulate its subjects to accept, conform, and promote the agenda of the governing power.
Recognizing propaganda as an underlying mechanism of power and control by “the executive
arm of the invisible government” (McClung Lee, 1945, p. 129) does little to alter ploys of the
propagandist, but in the very least can provide comfort and hope in the awareness that even the
most manipulative schemes cannot penetrate an unwilling individual’s innermost thoughts.
Propaganda Fitzmaurice
Brock Education Journal, 27(2), 2018
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Full-text available
This research focuses on the role of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) in the Rwandan genocide. It analyzes the radio broadcasts through the prism of theories of intergroup threat and aggression. In this perspective, this medium is conceived as a manipulative and propagandist agent which participated in the perpetration of mass killings constituting the Rwandan genocide, through the dissemination of the ideology of hatred before and during the genocide and the logistical assistance provided to those involved in the killings. Indeed, RTLM broadcasts were structured in such a way as to present Hutu as victims (intergroup threat), with the aim of justifying the use of violent actions against Tutsi (intergroup aggression). The corpus to be analyzed consists of extracts from RTLM broadcasts selected from transcripts stored at the Montreal Institute of Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) and at the International Monitor Institute (IMI). These extracts were analyzed with the method of discourse analysis. They reveal that RTLM's discourse was based on the victimization and glorification of Hutu, as well as the devaluation and demonization of Tutsi. Concretely, the radio broadcasts were structured in such a way as to incite Hutu (past and present victims of injustice) to exterminate Tutsi (the enemies, the "cockroaches" (inyenzi)) and to eradicate them from Rwandan society. They were built around two main themes : threat, which includes elements like propaganda and hatred, intergroup categorization and victimization of Hutu; and aggression which includes the revolutionary vision of Rwanda, the deshumanization of Tutsi, their designation as enemies, and the search for a just and homogeneous society without Tutsi.
Full-text available
Jacques Ellul is widely known among sociologists and philosophers in the West for his analyses of the impact technology has on human society and humans themselves. Less well known is Ellul's deep interest in human life. Ellul's interest in these areas is evident in "Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes" (1965) and "The Humiliation of the Word" (1985). Of interest to students of rhetorical criticism, Ellul does divide propaganda into political and sociological types. Ellul is known for his searing attack on the technological mindset, "la technique," which he argues is a self-directing and self-augmenting entity. It is the technological mindset, he argues, that disrupts human reflectivity and the quality of human life. For Ellul, technology itself is merely an example of the problem rather than the problem itself. According to this theory, "la technique" has invaded the realm of politics and persuasion. Those responsible for public discussion of issues, such as the media systems and the government, now use the techniques of propaganda to override rational discourse and critical thinking. Ellul's contribution to rhetorical theory lies in his understanding that persuasion does not occur in a single isolated instance but in a whole social, cultural, and technological framework of society. Second, Ellul points out that persuasion is based on emotion and irrationality. In a society dominated by propaganda, rationality disappears. (Includes 46 notes.) (TB)
I develop a theory of propaganda which affects mass behavior without necessarily affecting mass beliefs. A group of citizens observe a signal of their government's performance, which is upwardly inflated by propaganda. Citizens want to support the government if it performs well and if others are supportive (i.e., to coordinate). Some citizens are unaware of the propaganda (“credulous”). Because of the coordination motive, the non-credulous still respond to propaganda, and when the coordination motive dominates they perfectly mimic the actions of the credulous. So, all can act as if they believe the government's lies even though most do not. The government benefits from this responsiveness to manipulation since it leads to a more compliant citizenry, but uses more propaganda precisely when citizens are less responsive.
Propaganda, which entails much more than communications delivered with the conscious intent of manipulation, has become an important and pervasive factor in modern sociopolitical systems. In the 1930s, psychologists, sociologists, and educators were active in the field of propaganda analysis. At the present time, much propaganda research is being done but because it is dispersed among many disciplines it lacks a basic body of literature, a shared set of techniques, rules for evaluating its quality, and a channel of communication between scholars doing such research. After using examples from American print journalism to describe the range of means by which propaganda may be spread, this article discusses the considerations that would be relevant in reformulating a science of propaganda as a subdiscipline of political psychology.
This manuscript explores the state’s political use of the past and the function of history education in political transition and foreign relations. Modern historical consciousness in China is largely characterized by the “one hundred years of humiliation” from mid-1800s to mid-1900s when China was attacked, bullied, and torn asunder by imperialists. This research focuses initially on how such historical memory has been reinforced by the current regime’s educational socialization through the national “Patriotic Education Campaign” after 1991. It then explores the impact of this institutionalized historical consciousness on the formation of national identity and foreign relations. This study suggests that, even though existing theories and literature illuminate certain aspects of China’s political transition and foreign affairs behavior, a full explanatory picture emerges only after these phenomena and actions are analyzed through the “lenses” of history and memory.
Trump, Propaganda and Credulity. Reason. Retrieved from reason
  • R Bailey
Bailey, R. (2017). Trump, Propaganda and Credulity. Reason. Retrieved from
Elementary propaganda
  • H Boardman
Boardman, H. (1945). Elementary propaganda. Journal of Negro Education, 4, 619-622.
Propaganda as a weapon? Influencing international opinion. British Library, retrieved from Fellows, E. W. (1959). 'Propaganda': History of a word
  • I Cooke
Cooke, I. (2014). Propaganda as a weapon? Influencing international opinion. British Library, retrieved from Fellows, E. W. (1959). 'Propaganda': History of a word. American Speech, 3, 182-189.