Deconstructing Free Enterprise and Reconstructing for Sustainability: Cultural-Ecological Propaganda Analysis for Educators

By Rachelle F. Marshall

In the spring of 2017, a conservative think tank mailed 300,000 copies of a book to US teachers and college faculty to encourage widespread uncertainty about climate change and promote neoliberal, free enterprise discourse in US schools. Teachers have been targets of free enterprise propaganda campaigns throughout the last century. This most recent event stresses the need for critical media literacy in teacher preparation programs and throughout the US education system. From an EcoJustice Education perspective, this paper demonstrates how to perform a cultural-ecological propaganda analysis to assess the power-knowledge relations that circulate within a text’s discourse. A Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis allows readers to draw conclusions about texts without requiring background information about the texts’ authors. Even when information about an author is available, as it was in this case, grounding evidence of intent and effect within the discourse itself strengthens conclusions by challenging the author’s arguments rather than the author’s self. Along with an overview of common propaganda techniques, a thematic analysis identifies the main messages of the text and a rhetorical analysis explains how the messages are delivered and to what effect. Rhetorical devices, fallacies, contradictions, formatting, and hierarchized thinking are deconstructed to highlight flaws in the logic and reasoning of arguments. Educators must find opportunities to disrupt dominant discourses that perpetuate the unsustainable model of free enterprise and reconstruct community from an ecologically sustainable perspective. Humanity can no longer afford to prioritize fiscal economy over ecology. This paper concludes by sharing an alternative resource that educators can use in preparation for teaching about global warming and climate change. The two guides offer opposite lenses for understanding global warming and could be used in classroom activities with students as sample texts for critical analysis.

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