What If Core Curriculum for Elementary Civics Education Included Corporate Propaganda?

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by Neil Godfrey

What if the following had been part of the core curriculum for every junior high school or equivalent in western industrial democracies:

The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance:

  • the growth of democracy,
  • the growth of corporate power,
  • and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

There have been two principal aspects to the growth of democracy in this century:

  • the extension of popular franchise (i.e. the right to vote)
  • and the growth of the union movement.

These developments have presented corporations with potential threats to their power from the people at large (i.e. from public opinion) and from organized labour. American corporations have met this threat by learning to use propaganda, both inside and outside the corporation, as an effective weapon for managing governments and public opinion. They have thereby been able to subordinate the expression of democratic aspirations and the interests of larger public purposes to their own narrow corporate purposes.

Corporate propaganda directed outwards, that is, to the public at large, has two main objectives:

  • to identify the free-enterprise system in popular consciousness with every cherished value,
  • and to identify interventionist governments and strong unions (the only agencies capable of checking the complete domination of society by the corporations) with tyranny, oppression and even subversion.

The techniques used to achieve these results are variously called ‘public relations’, ’corporate communications’ and ’economic education’.

Corporate propaganda directed inwards, that is, to employees of the corporation itself, has the purpose of weakening the links between union members and their unions. Techniques employed in the United States for this purpose come under the broad disguise of ‘human relations’, ’employee participation’ and ‘employee communications’.

From the beginning of the century large-scale, professionally organized propaganda campaigns have been a key feature of the political activities of American business.

Carey, Alex. 1997. Taking the Risk out of Democracy : Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty. p. 18 (my formatting)
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6 thoughts on “What If Core Curriculum for Elementary Civics Education Included Corporate Propaganda?”

  1. One measure of the enormity of the task of trying to get education about propaganda into civics courses is the fact that this blog is the first mention I’ve seen in about 50 years of Ellul’s book “Propaganda.” I’m motivated to go back and re-read it because it was clearly prophetic. It’s stunning how Americans can believe themselves exceptional without any acknowledgement of slavery and Jim Crow, the treatment of the Native Americans, crazy foreign interventionism, and now Hispanics and any immigrants. An overwhelming portion of towns and cities in the western US have Spanish names, and history classes do cover all the facts about the subjects above, but it’s like the information gets stored in one part of the brain and people now believe the Mexicans are stealing it from the original owners. I do get a small bit of joy by reminding my right wing evangelical friends that the NT says “God hath made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” No conversions yet, but Jefferson’s and Madison’s belief that the average person would make the right decisions at least half the time if they had the right education supports Neil’s call for teaching critical thinking skills so that people are not taken in by nonsense propositions opposed to their own best interests.

  2. What if? No, it definitely does. American culture is saturated with corporate propaganda. All advertising is corporate propaganda. Most kids programming is corporate propaganda. I mean just look at shows like Sponge Bob Square Pants. Sponge Bob is an underpaid mindless fast food worker with idiot friends, who are all stuck in low wage work, with a greedy exploitative boss that they never challenge, who overtly takes advantage of them and they all just put up with it with a grin on their faces.

    Most other kids programming promotes consumerism and superficiality and portrays being a foolish dupe as “cool”.

    Actually the original Scooby Doo was one of the last descent network cartoon series. It featured kids solving mysteries that always disproved supernatural nonsense and revealed the economic motivations behind the deceptions of the criminals.

    But really it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re surrounded by corporate propaganda all the time, and really the population most subject to it is kids. From school, from movies, from TV, from video games, from commercials. Kids lives today are totally immersed in corporate propaganda and they don’ have the context to really even understand it or be aware of it until they are late teens.

  3. Corporate propaganda in the USA is ubiquitous and pervasive. All ages are affected by it, and it is in the language of government itself. There is now (since the 1980s) a large segment of the media devoted to pure right wing propaganda, which includes the constantly reiterated myth of the pervasive Left Wing media. I have a few stocks, and so I receive investment newsletters which are always chirping about how capitalism and free markets not only make us happy, but meet all our needs, which is, of course, the most blatant nonsense. I once worked as a temporary technical writer for IBM, and they had a specific language they demanded writers use, which consisted of the most awful jargon imaginable, used to promote ideas of corporate well-being. I don’t remember examples now except for the word “splice”. They wanted us to use that word to replace some other word which sounded more human, maybe it was “join” or “connect” or something. All I remember now is that they were promoting a dehumanizing jargon for purposes of indoctrination. I’m sure if we taught the above lessons in school, we’d get significant push-back from parents and school officials trained in corporate ideology, accusing teachers of pushing un-American, “Marxist” totalitarian ideas on the impressionable young, etc., etc.

  4. And as for teaching ABOUT corporate propaganda and how to recognize and counter it, well that will never happen in America, at least not without major changes. It could never happen right now. Corporations have taken over control of most schools, even public schools. I don’t know about all states, but in many states the public schools partner with corporations for fundraisers to get enough money to operate, which of course allows corporations to influence the curriculum.

    It’s funny, you can tell what the most taboo subjects are by what is the most forbidden to teach about in schools. Right now I’d say corporate power and the uses of corporate propaganda are probably things that would be most difficult to teach about in American public schools. I don’t think any lesson plan that teachings kids to be wary of the corporate agenda would be allowed at all in grade schools here. It can be done in colleges, but not grade schools, and certainly not elementary schools. I think you could more easily teach skepticism of religion in American public schools than skepticism of corporate power.

  5. If you closely study corporate communications, you will see amazing contradictions that can prove nearly anything.
    Watch the hysterically racist movie “Mask of Fu Machu” (1931) where Fu Manchu (played by British actor Boris Karloff) delights in torturing british imperialists like Lewis Stone (playing a Brit in the movie, although he was from Massachusetts). Even Fu Manchu’s daughter (played by an American actress Myrna Loy, from Montana) nearly has an orgasm commanding black henchmen to whip handsome young Brit (played by Charles Starrett, also from Massachusetts).
    Even if Fu Manchu is portrayed as a genius with Western University degrees Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy, Medicine and theology, it is easy to see the movie as racist and pro British imperialist.

    On the other hand in “the Bitter Tea of General Yen” (where a Swedish actor Nils Asther plays General Yen), American actress (from Brooklyn) Barbara Stanwyck is sickened by the barbaric, cruel and sinister actions of the renegade Chinese General Yen. He seemingly kidnaps her and plans to rape her. However, she soon re-evaluates his actions, seeing them as noble and necessary. She ends up seeing him as a wise and cultured gentle and poetic man. She falls in love with him and the culture of China.

    In “the Return of Fu Manchu” (1930) where Fu Manchu was played by another Swedish actor Warner Oland, Fu Manchu’s hatred of the British is explained by the British accidentally killing his wife and child. In a sense, they are saying that British imperialism turned Fu Manchu into a monster.

    These three films, all made by American Corporations between 1930 and 1934 for American audiences give a complex and contradictory view of Chinese culture and racism by and towards Chinese.

  6. I’ve felt this means of protecting corporate power: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

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