Students must be taught to become critical consumers of media in order to avoid being manipulated by a variety of deceptive ideologies. In our modern world, there are few limitations on publications. People can post their thoughts or beliefs freely via the internet whether or not they are founded on truth. Therefore, readers must develop the ability to see through clever writing practices and ask critical questions about the content they encounter.
Building assumed knowledge
One way that authors often attempt to manipulate their readers is by placing controversial or unproven information in a background position in the sentence. Most of the time people place agreed upon information in the beginning of the sentence.
Example: “Since teachers always want what’s best for their students, they continue to attend training and read about how to improve their instruction.”
In this example, the assumed knowledge of the sentence is “Since teachers always want what’s best for their students.” By placing this clause earlier in the sentence and beginning it with a subordinating conjunction (such as: since, because, before, while), the author encourages readers to accept the first statement as fact. Although this example is relatively harmless, this same strategy can often be used to change our thinking without our own realization.
What to ask:
- What does this author want me to assume about the world, myself, and others?
- How do the author’s assumptions compare to what I know to be true about the world?
Another way writers can manipulate their readers is by playing with the passive and active voices. When writers use the active voice (like example 1) they name the individual or organization responsible for an idea or action. However, when shifting to the passive voice, the author provides the information without giving a name.
- Karl shut the door.
- The door was shut.
It is often easier for people to blame ideologies or unknown sources than it is for people to blame a person or a specific group of people. As a result, readers who do not approach content critically may find themselves persuaded to adopt an ideology without crucial information.
What to ask:
- Which ideas or actions occur without a person behind them?
- Who is responsible for the ideas presented in this document?
- Is there adequate support?
Gee, J. (2014). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method (4thed.) New York:
Williams, J. M., & Bizup, J. (2013). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. Boston: Pearson
Hannah Dietrich loves communicating in order to learn and teach. She believes that all students are capable of learning and deserve the opportunity to better themselves through quality education. Hannah has taught a variety of English courses in Texas public high schools for the last five years. She has also coached students in competitive academic teams for literary criticism and spelling. Professionally, Hannah has presented strategies for student composition development at six education conferences and taken a role as a leader in the public school teaching community. She also has guided international student trips to France and Spain. Previously, Hannah taught English as a second language in China and equipped a team of new teachers to work with the Chinese students.