Would You Walk a Mile for a …

A few days ago we had a lovely morning that was dry and in the low seventies, so I decided to walk to the YMCA for my yoga class.  As I was walking, the old cigarette ad popped into my head, “I’d walk a mile for a _____” If you completed this with the word “Camel,” then you are as old as I am.  Ads kept popping into my head.  “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”  “Fly the friendly skies of United.”

Those ads and this time of year made me miss being a classroom teacher because I always started out the school year with a unit on propaganda before we began reading Animal Farm.  I explained to my students how propagandists, which include advertisers, must gain people’s trust and appeal to them emotionally.  We went through all the different emotional appeals and then watched commercials so the kids could identify what techniques a particular ad was using.  Every four years my propaganda unit took on even more significance as I added the study of the presidential election into the unit.  My students had to watch political advertisements and speeches and identify the propaganda techniques that were used.  They were asked to check what was said against the facts, if they were able to find any facts they could substantiate.  Many times they said it wasn’t necessarily that the politician lied but that he or she only told one side of the story.  What was left out was just as important as what was put in.

At the end of the school year I asked my students to tell me what had meant the most to them of all they had learned.  What would they take to the grave?  Invariably, my students told me that the propaganda unit had the most lasting effect on them because it made them start thinking for themselves instead of believing something because their parents believed it or friends or because they heard it through the media or out of the mouth of someone they believed was important.  Hallelujah!  Music to a teacher’s ears.

I wonder how many adults think as deeply as my students?  I can’t help but wonder, as the political campaigns get under way, how many people are really thinking for themselves or are being sucked in by clever propaganda from the political parties and media spin?  How many people always vote Democrat because… well, they just always have.  Same for the Republicans.  Do those people think that particular party always has the best answers?  Do they believe most of what they hear on TV or read in the paper without checking facts?  And where do we find those facts, facts not filtered through people’s biases?  Is that even possible?

Anyway, it’s just a thought.  Those ad campaigns were pretty effective.  If you were smoking Camels, I don’t know how you could possibly walk a mile, but they were about the most popular cigarettes for men at one time.  Made men look rugged and manly.

Just remember the difference between education and propaganda:  Education teaches you how to think; propaganda tells you what to think.  Use your head during this political season.  Your country is counting on you.

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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32 Responses to Would You Walk a Mile for a …

  1. oldereyes says:

    It think in between, there’s advertisement, which doesn’t tell you how to think but only tells part of the story, hoping you’ll think it’s the whole story. It may also denigrate the claims of “other products.” I find fewer and fewer places where I can find reporting, journalism or oratory that makes any real attempt to give a balanced view, so they become, in essence, advertising for a particular point of view. I think to some degree, many people have started to think that way. that is, not critically. It really concerns me.

  2. Robin says:

    It’s strange to see a cigarette commercial again.

    Great post. I wish every student were required to take a class like yours. I feel like all I hear are “talking points” on the news, in ads, and even in debates with others. There doesn’t seem to be any real thinking behind the talking points. Just people repeating what they’ve heard.

    • comingeast says:

      You’re so right, Robin. The political agenda is to get elected or re-elected, so the politicians use propaganda techniques to further those goals. Yes, they’ll say they just want to do what’s best for the country, and maybe some of them have talked themselves into believing that’s true, but the facts show otherwise.

  3. I remember similiar lessons in school, and they had an impact on me, as well. So much so that it drove me into the career I chose. (No, I’m not in advertising.) And you know I heartily echo your sentiment about thinking for oneself in political elections! Job well done, Teacher. Congratulations on the accomplishment. That is what it means to shape young minds!

  4. As a home school high school co op literature/history teacher, (quite a title, huh?) I really enjoyed teaching about propaganda as well. It always puts me at alert, watching for ways that I am persuaded unaware. It always causes me to think about my own life. How does my life persuade others? Do I pressure for control, or gently encourage toward true hearted resolve?

  5. “Education teaches you how to think; propaganda tells you what to think.” Great line.

  6. Amy says:

    Well stated! What you have done for your student is a great way to develop their critical thinking skills. It also reminded me how CB explained to me about his teaching. His engineering and science majored students had to explain why and how he/she got the result or answer, because he did not want students to find answers by copying nor by memorizing, which made him an unpopular professor. I agree wholeheartedly that people need the ability to think, pose intelligent questions, and then make judgment using hard facts. Great post! Thank you!

  7. Wonderful post, CE! Wish I had you as a teacher…and my children to boot! And the ‘fresh air’ part re: Salems does give one pause in this day and age…

  8. montucky says:

    That propaganda unit ought to be taught every year, everywhere!

  9. E.C. says:

    You must’ve been a wonderful teacher. I wish more teachers shared your attitude. This is a great post with a truthful message that we all need to teach our children and grandchildren. 🙂

  10. Leah says:

    Wow, what a powerful post and lesson. And what a wonderful teacher you were (are) for changing students lives with that lesson. I love your last lines about education teaches you to think and propaganda tells you what to think. So very true! Great post.

    • comingeast says:

      Thanks, Leah. It was so gratifying to hear the students’ discussions when they would analyze the political speeches. They were so smart in knowing what was going on. Hope they kept it up in their adult lives.

  11. Shary Hover says:

    I bet your students loved you for teaching them to think for themselves. That’s such a valuable skill that seems to be lacking these days. Great post!

  12. Patti Ross says:

    Great post! And logical lesson: Think before you buy anything, whether that be product, idea or politician. When I was in the classroom, I also loved the propoganda and critical thinking unit, with similar praise from my students about the unit opening their minds to being informed consumers! Today I would direct them to http://www.factcheck.org/ for all the political claims raised these days.

    BTW: Yes, I could complete the line about walking a mike–it does not seem that long ago!

  13. judithhb says:

    I remember the Salem ads from when we lived in Montreal. My husband was a smoker and Salem was his choice. We have no cigarette or tobacco ads on TV now.

    • comingeast says:

      We banned all cigarette ads, too, Judith, a long time ago. The old ads look so ridiculous, especially when you know the harm cigarettes cause. But they were effective.

  14. Dor says:

    Even though I’m old enough and wise enough to spot the emotional appeals, I wish I could take your class! What a terrific teacher you must have been.

    • comingeast says:

      Thanks, Dor. I think a lot of adults have forgotten the psychology behind propaganda and fall victim to it again and again. Not enough people thinking for themselves anymore.

  15. julie says:

    Oh I so agree with you. We as Americans need to get the facts. But I do get confused as to where to get the REAL facts. I want to know the truth. Great post.

    I was thinking I would have loved to have taken a class like yours. I would have learned to think for myself a whole lot earlier.

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