Showmanship in Education

William W. Newcomb

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June 1938]

With mankind searching as never before for its Shangri-la, with this new awareness of the people in the social ills of our times, with the Press still "free" in the democratic countries, it behooves us to leave no stone unturned in preparing leaders to promulgate the Science of Economics. Now, that the other sciences are pretty generally accepted by the masses, the problem of leading these same people into the knowledge of this science becomes simplified. We have reached that time, I believe, when we should make our reply to those who have studied our text (and countless other books on "economics") who are always saying to us Georgeists: "Now, what are you going to do about it?"

Is it not our moral obligation to enlighten the newspaper and magazine reader, the movie, play-going and forum audience, the radio and television public? Enlighten them on what? The School! The Henry George School of Social Science should become as well known to the man in the street as any of our great universities. Endowments for its perpetuation and expansion can come speedily through two major means:

  1. Improving its physical equipment. All of us want to see the day when the School is housed in a properly located building that speaks for its dignity, its strength, and its utility; when its faculty are full-time salaried workers.
  2. The School's utilization of all resources that the various fields of information and entertainment offer for promotion to attain the ends of point one, above.

It is because this second point practically becomes the foci upon which the School's progress rests, that I intend to devote this article to such a programme. Space limitations necessitate my merely mentioning the means of attracting the thinking public; not the methods.

From the smallest pants presser shop employing the walking sandwich man, to the mighty utility buying the services of the oak-paneled publicity office, there is only one thought: Make the public conscious of our service to mankind.

Thuswise, should we make the public conscious of the service of the School.

First. The newspaper. There is hardly a story appearing in the daily press that does not revolve around an economic matter. Have we got writers who are taking these points up, as they appear in the papers, and writing letters to the editor? People want to know what makes the wheels go 'round. Surely, it is our job to show what wheels have the wrong spokes or badly worn tires. Letters to the editors are read and are printed.

There is not a play on Broadway that would last three nights if a publicist were not supplying the papers with salient points about the inner involvements behind that piece despite the tremendous influence of crochety drama critics. Thus, with our School; keep it in the minds of the people. Every item that lends controversy to the theorem gives us a wedge on which to put our story on the editor's desk.

The magazines. Is there a single teacher writing on Fundamental Economics, in terms of reader acceptance. By that I mean, is this man sending in articles to Scribners, in Scribner's style, and that man to Liberty, in Liberty's style. There is a lot of "tripe" in magazines, economic and otherwise. A magazine depends more on presentation and subject matter, than it does on truth of contents. We have the truth. If we use the right style, presenting our subject entertainingly (I hate to use that word, too) more students will enroll for the course in a year than $5,000 worth of magazine advertising.

If our field men could get to the editors of the village and rural weeklies, where land is more a drain than an income to its people, our programme touches that element that otherwise hardly scans our ads. in the Nation or The New York Times. Let the editors of these weeklies start the classes!

I can't begin to guess how many little magazinelettes are published in the country, but their circulation must total many hundred thousand people. These magazines go to the cream of the rebels, the minority that reads then takes pen in hand, or mounts a soap-box. The readers of these little four-and-six sheet monthlies are the teachers of tomorrow. But it is patient contacting by the field men that will bring these media into our fold.

The stage. Almost fifty years ago a play called "Shore Acres" made a fortune for its author, James A. Herne It was an attempt to discuss the land problem in the days when propaganda could be used only as a distillant in the main creative product. It is history to repeat that the play, despite its subtle evasion of the fundamental problem, did arouse people to that same problem, and interested them in Georgeism. Is there a modern play on the problem? Yes, at the Adelphi, called "One Third of the Nation," which treats of slum clearance in terms of land.

We are not interested in the platform and programme of the Left-Wing parties, but we can certainly take a leaf from their book of experiences: We can form dramatic guilds among our graduates, and thereby acquaint a new audience with the School at the same time that we are keeping our graduates close to us. Like the Federal Theatre play, indicated above, our writers should be creating other dramatic pieces on war, vice, political corruption to bring to the attention of an ever-expanding prospective body of students the necessity of our government collecting economic rent.

Maybe you are one of those who look down on the movie as being fit entertainment only for 12-year olds. Go and see The March of Time's "Inside Nazi Germany." Look up "Zola," "Louis Pasteur," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, "Lost Horizon" at your neighborhood theatre. No propaganda in these pictures? The finest kind, and with no curtailment of entertainment value. Read what Frances Marion, highest paid scenario writer in the work has to say about the presentation of social factors being gently woven into the fabric of a film story. It's all the rage now. Haven't we fiction writers in our movement.

Are we overlooking the 16mm. film? Most assuredly. More goods are being sold, more education being driven home, by 16mm. films than ever in history. There is a technique to this. This is the one medium wherein the largest total can catch the true essence of Georgeism without the editorial repressions inflicted by an acoustic medium of expression. The 16mm. film is produced exactly as we want to explain our work. With the recognition that the eye is the most potent factor in getting attention, and maintaining retention, this is the one medium that should be pursued immediately. It is inexpensive, it is entertaining; it provides an illustration for both lecturers and teachers.

Every social problem can be attacked, with the film, to show the solution as propounded by Henry George. Or, any author of a fictionized account of natural economics practice, conversant with our School's programme, I am sure, would make his story available. I can think of Ralston's "Shovelcrats" or Berens and Singer's "Story of My Dictatorship" as two good stories.

These pictures need not be in sound; they need not require expensive projection equipment. In almost every Georgeist class there is likely to be a member who owns a projector. A print of the film can be shipped from the School, so that cost of projection amounts to what transportation charges come to. A picture running a half hour, 800 feet in length, will do more to start a class off successfully with all large attendance of high caliber zealots, than any other promotion programme providing the film is well publicized before the showing.

Radio. While I am not one of those persons especially influenced by radio promotion, this media must be tremendously powerful, else government, industry and commerce would not utilize it on so mammoth a scale. A series of broadcasts emanating from an original programme prepared by the School, in dramatic depiction, debate or simply well-prepared announcements, will further enhance the value of each class to its community.

Forums. We have never seen so many before. Why should the organizations which are contributing to fallacious economic thought have a monopoly on this media? When Town Talk of the Air is given each Thursday night, are there Georgeists in the audience who show that our economic ills must be approached from the natural economic point of view? Should the communists do all the boring within ...?

And local forums. Are the graduates from our various classes offering their services as speakers in the Sunday Evening Clubs in the churches. There is a high strata of intelligence in these clubs; the members are in the 20-30 age brackets.

Downtown window displays are a happy medium for making people acquainted with classes. Lacking dignity? Windows are used by the Boy Scouts, the Community Chest, the Chamber, and countless other civic associations. Every city has its share of empty stores. Every city has a Georgeist with a downtown shop. Twenty-five copies of Henry George's books, some bright placards, the Freeman and other publications spread about make your window. And, if you will do the job right, a lad or a girl to pass out the yellow pamphlet, and to make people acquainted with the locations and dates of classes.

I could go on with ten thousand words more, but better a little at a time. In Rochester we are endeavoring to see what sort of a laboratory we can establish for classes elsewhere. Our first class graduates the ninth of February. We meet in a court room in City Hall Annex. Point One for Publicity: Quality location. The Mayor is giving the diplomas. Point Two: Justifies the attendance of the Press.

Our new term opens the following week: One class at the JYMA, and two more classes at City Hall Annex. Two of our teachers are old-time Georgeists, the third teacher, a graduate student (and instructor) at the University and a graduate of our class.

As before, we are sending out 500 triple post cards supplied by the School. In each of the dailies will appear a "Letter the Editor" by myself, as Executive Secretary, and other letters over the signatures of various graduating students. In most cases I either supervise or write these letters to avoid duplication and provide correlation. Simultaneously with the letters appears a news story of the class opening. For the next two Sundays, five co-workers, secretaries and students, will distribute the pamphlet, "The School and the Course," with the local classes indicated by rubber stamp on the pamphlet's cover. These seven hundred pamphlets will be distributed to at least twelve young people's groups, meeting about 6:30 each Sunday evening; to the university library, to the economics department at the Public Library, and to the "Y's."

The Federation of Churches already has our announcement for their bulletin, with a request that pastors make announcements in the churches. Another announcement goes to the Chamber of Commerce bulletin. Of course, the weekly sectional newspapers will each receive a story; they are greedy for fillers, and their readers scan their papers from cover to cover. We also expect that Congressman Eckert will send us his address, "Land, Labor and the Wagner Act," in time for several thousand of those to go out.

We are hoping the day will come when a national service, originating from Headquarters, will supply us with movies, radio scripts, plays, carefully written feature articles for the newspapers, etc. For the time being we are utilizing our local resources. In our registration of 63 students for our first class, we checked back on each student and learned that:

Thirty came from daily newspaper announcements and Letters to the Editors; 6 from sectional weekly papers; 2 from Young People's Forum Announcement (made by an unknown friend); 7 through friends of Georgeists; 4 were Georgeists originally; 14 from 500 triple-cards.

If much of the travail that the average secretary goes through in writing a story acceptable to the newspaper (in order to get a decent amount of space) could be eliminated if supplies other than the window posters could be sent the secretary, created, organized, and correlated by a New York publicity service or a full-time promotion man working for the School and all its extensions, the percentage of enquiry and registration could be materially raised. I believe in the advertising programme the School has undertaken in the New York Times and the weekly journals, but under the School's present restricted budget, I believe it worthwhile to divide that appropriation between advertising and the buying of either promotion service, or the outright hiring of a publicity man who devotes all his time to selling the work of the Henry George School to the nation. In other words, showmanship in education.