Meredith Project Examines Social Impact of Propaganda

Students entering Meredith Middle School

Students at Meredith Middle School took part in a unique simulation about the impact of propaganda and hysteria.

The 7th grade halls in Meredith Middle School were buzzing this week. Not with the usual teenage social gossip. Instead, everyone wanted to know who put up the strange flyers calling for the overthrow of the “corrupt system” of American government. Who was stuffing them into lockers and posting them on social media?

Teachers began talking about the danger of such subversive talk, and the implications it could have for the school and the country.  Teachers encouraged students not to read or even look at the flyers and they demanded to know who was behind it, saying the school’s cameras had been erased and any evidence was lost.

What teachers and parents knew – but students did not – was that the whole act was a real life lesson about how an entire country could be swayed by propaganda, and language can be used to influence thought. The unit being taught at the International Baccalaureate School is titled “Economic and Political Systems in East Asia.” More specifically, what it is like to live in North Korea.

“The unit started out pretty dry and students were losing focus,” said one of the lesson’s authors, Global Studies teacher Patrick Brennan. “So we decided to create something beyond teaching to a test, beyond reading chapter after chapter. We wanted them to understand what it might be like to live in North Korea and readily accept daily and generational propaganda.”

Brennan and his “co-conspirator,” fellow Global Studies teacher Adam Freese, said they knew the lesson would be a tough sell because there is a good level of openness between students and teachers in the class.

But as happens in middle schools, the messages on the flyers and the messages from the teachers spread very quickly.

“You walked in the hallways and it was ALL the students were talking about,” Freese said.

Some of the students figured it out, the rest were let in on the lesson’s origin at the end of the day Wednesday. Freese and Brennan said tomorrow’s class will be a wrap up and they hope to host plenty of insightful discussion.

“We think this is a lesson that will stick with them,” Brennan said.

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