N. Communicating Information and Values

In this Chapter:

What people learn from their parents and the people around them establishes and reinforces cultural norms and largely defines who they are and the nature of their reality. Challenging cultural norms redefines reality and opens up new possibilities.

Study Questions

  1. Does public education indoctrinate students with a particular ideology?
  2. Does the mainstream media indoctrinate citizens with a particular ideology?
  3. Should commercial advertising be protected by the right of free speech?
  4. What promising new efforts are moving us towards better communication?

Overview Article N

8 pages total

“Democracy and Media,” a review by Jeffrey Scheur of The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications by Paul Starr, Dissent Magazine, Summer 2004, 8 p.

An historical look at the link between democracy and communication (education, free speech and the media) in the U.S.

Reading Set N1: Language

48 pages total

Review by Nuzhat Amin of Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice, by A. Suresh Canagarajah (Ed.), TESL-EJ, Volume 9, Number 2, September 2005, 7 p.

Discusses a variety of global language and power issues.

“Online, and Off, English’s Hegemony Is Challenged Globally,” by Barry James, International Herald Tribune, February 12, 2001, 12 p.

A European perspective concerning English being and/or staying the main language.

“Framing the Dems,” by George Lakoff, The American Prospect, August 31, 2003, 13 p.

How conservatives control political debate and how progressives can take it back.

“Reframing: Words to Reclaim,” by George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute, CommonDreams.org, October 24, 2006, 5 p.

How to reframe: “liberal,” “patriotism,” “rule of law,” “national security,” “family values,” “life.”

“Linguistics professor George Lakoff dissects the ‘war on terror’ and other conservative catchphrases,” by Bonnie Azab Powell, UC Berkeley News, August 26, 2004, 11 p.

Language and framing.

Reading Set N2: Education, Schooling

64 pages total

“Universal Education,” by John Taylor Gatto, Yes! Magazine, Winter 1999, 11 p.

A former New York teacher of the year, John Taylor Gatto, says real education is about learning wisdom, self-reliance, culture, and leadership, not fitting kids in the economy’s pigeonholes.

Review by Marie Eaton of Teaching The Restless by Chris Mercogliano, Yes! Magazine, Spring 2004, 4 p.

A sharp critique of schooling, child-rearing practices, and America’s increasing rush to medicate away any perceived ‘problem’ behaviors.

“Partnership Education in the 21st Century,” by Riane Eisler, Encounter Volume 15, Number 3, 19 p.

We can build a new educational system based on the principles of partnership, and lay the foundations for a more sustainable, equitable, and caring world.

“Undermining Democracy,” by Deborah W. Meier, Dissent, Fall 2006, 14 p.

The role of education in undermining or supporting democracy.

“In U.S. Schools, Race Still Counts: Despite progress, challenges loom,” by Caroline Hendrie, Education Week, January 21, 2004, 13 p.

Inequality in education still exists, 50 years after the Brown v. The Board of Education decision.

“President Bush Discusses the Reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act,” the White House, March 2, 2007, 3 p.

Arguments in favor of reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act.

Reading Set N3: Propaganda, Advertising

51 pages total

“On Celibacy, Cigars, and Sales Pitches: Sex in service of the marketplace,” by Cynthia Peters, Z Magazine, May 2001, 9 p.

Argues against sex-based marketing and government interference; and for freedom of private sexual choice and pleasure.

“Pharmaceutical Marketing and the Invention of the Medical Consumer,” by Kalman Applbaum, PLoS Medicine, Volume 3, Number 4, April 11, 2006, 7 p.

Pharmaceutical marketing is more closely aligned with consumer marketing in other industries than with medicine, and the consequences are not trivial.

“Using MLK to Keep You in Your Place,” by Cynthia Peters, ZNet Daily Commentaries, March 15, 2002, 4 p.

Martin Luther King’s birthday provides a special opportunity to reinforce the directive that our mission in life is to be consumers.

“Food Giants’ Endless Appetite for Profit,” an interview by Matthew Wheeland of Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit, AlterNet, January 29, 2007, 12 p.

A little background on the food industry and junk food marketing.

“Have You Been Tricked by Viral Marketing? Join the Crowd,” by Momoko Price, The Ubyssey, University of British Columbia, Canada, February 2, 2007, 10 p.

Fake graffiti, bogus hype, and other mutations are fooling lots of us into believing that marketed products are the hot new thing, when they’re only the latest thing off the assembly line.

“The Bottled Water Lie,” by Michael Blanding, AlterNet, October 26, 2006, 9 p.

The corporations that sell bottled water are depleting natural resources, jacking up prices, and lying when they tell you their water is purer and tastes better than the stuff that comes out of the tap.

Reading Set N4: Mass Media, Pop Culture

59 pages total

“Big Media is Ravenous: These Conglomerates are an Empire, and they are Imperial,” speech by Bill Moyers, National Conference on Media Reform, Memphis, Tennessee, January 16, 2007, 30 p.

As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people.

“Media Literacy,” by Cynthia Peters, Z Magazine, February 1998, 13 p.

We can’t protect kids from all the media messages, but we can empower them to be critical.

“Privatization,” Center for Media and Democracy, 6 p.

An overview of privatization, the sale of publicly owned assets to the private sector.

“Public Teams, Private Profits: How pro sports owners run up the score on fans and taxpayers,” by D. Stanley Eitzen, Dollars & Sense, Issue 228, March-April 2000, 10 p.

The subsidies going to sports team owners are obviously welfare — yet owners, civic boosters, editorial writers, and politicians, who sing the praises of the free market, defend it unabashedly.

Reading Set N5: Internet, Web, E-Mail

69 pages total

“The Next Information Revolution,” an excerpt from Management Challenges for the 21st Century by Peter Drucker, 1999, 18 p.

A history of the printing revolution and comparing it to the current information revolution. Long (could maybe skip middle parts) great history of printing revolution

“America’s Blinders,” by Howard Zinn, The Progressive, April 2006, 9 p.

We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

“Breakthroughs,” by Richard Heinberg, Yes! Magazine, Winter 2001, 5 p.

Innovation, insight, and knowledge from the 20th century could inspire social transformation in the 21st.

“The Web Rewires the Movement,” by Andrew Boyd, The Nation, August 4, 2003, 15 p.

Email and the Internet has rewired the U.S. social change movement.

“Wired Words: Utopia, Revolution, and the History of Electronic Highways,” by Mark Surman, Proceedings from the INET96 Conference, Montreal, Canada, June 24-28, 1996, Section E2, 36 p.

The limits of revolutionary technology to bring about social revolution. (very long, but good thinking about the limits of revolutionary technology; could suggest the first and last sections)

Additional Resources


“Framing the Debate: It’s All GOP,” commentary by George Lakoff, Boston Globe, September 12, 2004, 3 p.

How do Republicans continually frustrate Democrats, keeping them on the defensive? It’s their skill at “framing.”

“Debt Education: Bad for the Young, Bad for America,” by Jeffrey J. Williams, Dissent, Summer 2006, 18 p.

The present system of student debt is wrong. And if you look at the productivity statistics, it is counterproductive. We should therefore advocate the abolition of student debt.


Next Reading Set Collection: O. Earlier Movements for Change