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Propaganda and Public Pedagogy  

Phil Graham

Propaganda and public pedagogy are rarely juxtaposed in education research contexts. However, the two terms are closely related and require joint consideration for the broader future of critical education research. The terms describe state-based educational processes conducted on a mass scale and are in fact describing “the same thing” to a large degree. Both are forms of mass rhetoric that were swiftly tempered to industrial strength in the early 20th century during World War I. Since then, propaganda has come to be treated as a cultural derogatory, an inherently oppressive force, while public pedagogy has come to be framed as an unmitigated force for good. However, both are nationalist projects that involve the school in both positive and negative ways. Ultimately, this contribution is about methods, methodology, and axiology (the logic of values). By juxtaposing propaganda and public pedagogy as historically isomorphic terms, and framing both as state-based rhetorics designed to propagate specific habits, actions, attitudes, and understandings en masse, it becomes evident that if public pedagogy is to become an applied research agenda it requires applied methods and methodologies, along with conscious and positive normative theses in respect of purpose. The methods and methodologies, and in many important cases the axiologies developed by the propagandists, provide a rich source for assessment and potential application in the field of public pedagogical research. At some level that suggests a Faustian bargain: surely, the immensely negative connotations of the term “propaganda” preclude the application of its methods and values in the practice of public pedagogic research. Yet if public pedagogy is something that educators aspire to do rather than merely analyze or seek to understand, then the methods of the propagandists are, if nothing else, the most obvious starting point.