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.



Check out more from Dr. Kenneth Samples

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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