Thursday, September 22, 2022

Selling Toothpaste and Presidents

Selling Toothpaste and Presidents
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 22, 2022, p. A4

When travelling the lecture circuit decades ago, I would occasionally get off on a rant regarding advertising’s manipulation of consumer demand.

I would ask the audience to look at the labels on the products in their bathroom cabinet for any that were not heavily advertised on television.

At that time Procter & Gamble’s Gleem toothpaste was widely advertised as “the toothpaste for people who can’t brush after every meal.”

After such lectures audience members would come forward to dispute my assertions. One especially agitated adult with red face, fiery eyes, and a forefinger in my chest asserted, “Other people, maybe; but I’m sure not influenced by commercials.”

As if to politely change the subject, I asked, “What toothpaste do you use?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Just curious,” I said.

“I use Gleem.”

“With all those toothpastes to choose from, why did you happen to pick Gleem?”

“Well, it’s just, … it’s just …, well I just can’t brush after every meal.”

Since many of the lectures were at academic institutions, my ongoing toothpaste survey revealed that most academics used Crest. (Part of my reason for following up with the Gleem fan.)

Since my dentist believed that brushing and flossing twice daily with water – or if one insisted on a dentifrice, baking soda – was adequate, why would academics use Crest?

It’s only a guess, but it turns out the American Dental Association had endorsed Crest. Perhaps dentists’ research revealed it did less harm than other toothpastes. I don’t know. Perhaps it was only natural that academics would go with the toothpaste choice of their fellow professionals.

Apparently by 2014 consumers had discovered another way to brush after every meal, or otherwise manage their dental hygiene without Gleem. With rapidly declining Gleem sales P&G took it off the market.

What does this have to do with the United States’ and other nations’ current slide from democracies into dictatorships?

Advertising isn’t new. One of the earliest ads (for “fine quality needles”) was printed from a copper plate during China’s Sung dynasty (960-1276). Advertising later began claiming its products raised one’s social status. But industrialization provided the products, and boost in advertising, from $200 million in 1880 to $3 billion in 1920.

This was soon followed by the use of psychological techniques, such as appealing to potential customers’ emotions of love, hate and fear. The economy grew by creating millions my late friend, Molly Ivins, described as people believing “more is better, and too much is not enough.”

As Adolph Hitler discovered, these same techniques had the power to flip a country noted for its educational system, creative literature, painting, poetry, music, theatre, and architecture into a Nazi state. (Photo credit: Danzigers Cheer Hitler, Sept. 19, 1939, wikimedia commons.)

Reflect on that, and then think about our current political campaigns' use of social media, the role of MAGA and its leader, in flipping a political party. As media critic Professor Rose Goldsen observed, from toothpaste to presidents, “Even though we know we are being taken, we are still being taken.”
Nicholas Johnson is the author of "Test Pattern for Living."

Gleem. “Do Crest Toothpastes Have the ADA Seal of Acceptance?” Crest, (“Has Crest Pro–Health Toothpaste received the Seal of Acceptance from the American Dental Association? Yes. In fact, Crest Pro-Health Gel Toothpaste - Clean Mint, Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste - Clean Cinnamon, Crest Pro-Health Night Toothpaste, and Crest Pro-Health Whitening are the toothpastes that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance for protecting against all these areas: cavities, gingivitis, plaque, sensitivity, stains and bad breath. They also help prevent tartar buildup and freshen breath.”)

“Gleem … the toothpaste for people who can’t brush after every meal,” image and text in LIFE magazine Sept. 9, 1957,

Rudy Sanchez, “Procter & Gamble Resurrects Gleem As An Electric Toothbrush, Nov. 11, 2019, (“Many consumers may not have heard of Gleem, which, despite being only recently retired, has long been bested by toothpaste competitors like Colgate and Crest. Although parent company Procter & Gamble shelved Gleem in 2014, they rebranded the product as Crest Fresh and White, forced to wear the livery of a one-time market rival.”)

History of Advertising. “History of Advertising,” Wikipedia, (“A copper printing plate dated back to the Song dynasty used to print posters in the form of a square sheet of paper with a rabbit logo with "Jinan Liu's Fine Needle Shop" and "We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time" written above and below.[3] It is considered the world's earliest identified printed advertising medium.[4]” … “Total advertising volume in the United States grew from about $200 million in 1880 to nearly $3 billion in 1920.[43]” … “The former chair at Johns Hopkins University, John B. Watson was a highly recognized psychologist in the 1920s. After leaving the field of academia he turned his attention towards advertising where he implemented the concepts of behaviorism into advertising. This focused on appealing to the basic emotions of the consumer: love, hate, and fear. This type of advertising proved to be extremely effective as it suited the changing social context which led to heavy influence of future advertising strategy and cemented the place of psychology in advertising.[57][58]”)

“China in 1000 CE; The Most Advanced Society in the World,” 2022, (“During the Song (Sung) Dynasty (960-1276), technology was highly advanced in fields as diverse as agriculture, iron-working, and printing.”)

Germany. “The Weimar Renaissance,” Britannica, (“Amid the political and economic turmoil of the early 1920s, Germany’s cultural and intellectual life was flowering. … In 1919 Gropius became the founder and first director of the Bauhaus school of design in Weimar, the most important institution in Germany for the expression of Modernism’s aesthetic and cultural vision. Bauhaus artists believed that they were creating a new world through their painting, poetry, music, theatre, and architecture.”)

Rose Goldsen quote. Nicholas Johnson, “Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland,” Federal Communications Law Journal, 55 F.C.L.J 521 (2003), (“[FN22]. (“The latest organization of media educators was announced as this paper was being written. See Action Coalition for Media Education, at http:// (last visited Mar. 2, 2003). However media-savvy one may be, a search of cupboards and cabinets may provide illustrations of an insight Rose Goldsen [author of “The Show and Tell Machine,” 1977] once shared with the Author: ‘Even though we know we are being taken, we are still being taken.’") And in Nicholas Johnson, “Your Second Priority,” (2007/2008), p. 83.
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Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Civics Can Save Us

Civics Can Save Us
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 7, 2022, p. A5

Like Robert Frost confronting “two roads diverged in a wood,” Americans must choose. One road requires heavy lifting, rebuilding the decaying democracy our founders gave us; the other is an easy stroll down the green fairways of indifference to an authoritarian dictatorship.

As with other public challenges, the outcome will be decided in our public schools – a core institution for a self-governing people.

Boston Latin School was founded in 1635; the first free, taxpayer-supported public school four years later. Pennsylvania created the first statewide free education in 1790.

By the 1830s schools were adding years of instruction, the first high schools, and Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “It is by the attention it pays to public education that the original character of American civilization is at once placed in the clearest light.” He noted laws “establishing schools in every township, and obliging the inhabitants, under pain of heavy fines, to support them.”

“The character of American civilization” can still be judged by the attention we pay to public education. We’ve yet to add an additional two years of free education. Too many students are ignorant of American history and the provisions of our Constitution. MAGA politicians and parents attack underpaid K-12 teachers who ultimately leave their jobs. College tuition soars, while many university presidents are paid $1 million or more (over twice the U.S. president’s take-home pay), and student loan borrowers now owe $1.75 trillion.

The most significant K-12 class for future citizens governing themselves is “civics education.”

Civics education is nothing new, and its content and rationale change over time. In 820 BC the “civics education” Sparta lawgiver Lycurgus encouraged was designed to create citizens devoted to the public good.

By the 19th Century civics education was recognized as a major goal of public schools. In New England, de Tocqueville reported, “every citizen receives . . . the history of [the] country, and the leading features of its Constitution. … politics are the end and aim of education ….”

Today, the National Council for the Social Studies is the go-to source for civics education. Their position paper, “Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools” should be required reading for every superintendent, school board member, principal, teacher, and parent.

It begins, “As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public. The goal of schooling [is] to equip a citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for active and engaged civic life.”

Note the words “skills.” It is not sufficient that students read the Constitution and study Congress. As one researcher found, “students did best when discussing current events in class daily, simulating democratic processes regularly and engaging in community service annually.... [With only a] fleeting knowledge base [students] are poorly prepared for the demands of democratic governance.”
[Photo credit: Iowa State University; "Legislative Day is an opportunity for youth to learn about one of the core program areas of 4-H — leadership and civic engagement ... Youth participants were able to ... meet members of the Iowa House of Representatives and Senate to discuss issues affecting youth." March 3, 2020.]

Add Claire Nader’s new book for kids, parents and teachers, “You Are Your Own Best Teacher,” and there’s still hope for us.

Nicholas Johnson’s social studies teacher was Dr. John Haefner.


Two roads. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” Poetry Foundation, (“. . . Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”)

Boston Latin; the first free; first statewide free. “History of education in the United States,” Wikipedia, (“The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States.[1] The first free taxpayer-supported public school in North America, the Mather School, was opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1639.[2][3]”)

“K-12,” Wikipedia, (“U.S. public education was conceived of in the late 18th century. In 1790, Pennsylvania became the first state to require some form of free education for everyone regardless of whether they could afford it. New York passed similar legislation in 1805. In 1820, Massachusetts became the first state to create a tuition-free high school, Boston English.[2] The first K–12 public school systems appeared in the early 19th century. In the 1830s and 1840s, Ohioans were taking a significant interest in the idea of public education.”)

Alexis de Tocqueville. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835/1840) See generally, “Alexis de Tocqueville,” Wikimedia,, and “2. Democracy in America.” Also, “Democracy in America,” Wikipedia,

Quotes from “Democracy in America” used in the column can be found by searching for them in the text: Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. I, 1835, Henry Reeve translation,

Ignorance of history/Constitution. Glenn Ricketts, “Knowledge of American History Rapidly Becoming History,” American History, National Association of Scholars, March 23, 2015, (“Now on the heels of our report comes the US Education Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress quadrennial survey, The Nation’s Report Card: U.S. History 2010. As the title indicates, this study measures knowledge of the rudiments of US history among K-12 students at the elementary, middle and secondary levels. … eighty per cent of fourth graders, eighty-three per cent of eighth graders and eighty-eight per cent of high school seniors flunked the minimum proficiency rating. And within the senior cohort, a mere two per cent correctly answered a question about the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.”)

“Editorial: Citizenship 101: Too many Americans are ignorant of the basics of democracy,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 29, 2014, (“A survey of adults conducted in September by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that only 36% could name all three branches of the U.S. government; 35% couldn’t name even one. Only 27% of respondents knew that it requires a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a president’s veto, and 21% wrongly thought that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision must be returned to Congress for reconsideration. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg center, said the survey “offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education.”

Today, “Warren wrote, ‘education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship.’” [Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education, 1954]

“[Retired] Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor … in a 2008 article written with former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, … argued that ‘civic education has been in steady decline over the past generation, as high stakes testing and an emphasis on literacy and math dominate school reforms. Too many young people today do not understand how our political system works.’”)

Attacks on teachers. Edward Graham, “Who is Behind the Attacks on Educators and Public Schools? The manufactured outrage perpetuated by dark money networks is both a danger to educators and a distraction from helping students and parents,” neaToday, Dec. 14, 2021, (“This peddling of misinformation and fear has led to a sharp increase in threats aimed at educators and school board officials, many of whom have been intimidated and threatened in alarming numbers across the country—outside school grounds, across social media, and, most notoriously, at local school board meetings.

Small groups of radicalized adults, egged on by these bad actors, have been whipped into a furor over COVID safety protocols and the false notion that children are being taught “critical race theory.” Some of these protests have ended in chaos, with school board members in Virginia receiving death threats and protesters in San Diego County forcing their way into a school board meeting and declaring themselves the newly-elected board.

Educators across the country have also shared horror stories about the assaults and abuses they’ve had to endure for simply doing their jobs. Teachers in California and Texas were physically assaulted over wearing masks, and in Arizona, a group of men were arrested and charged after attempting to abduct an elementary school principal for following COVID-19 guidelines.”)

Tuition increases. Melanie Hanson, “College Tuition Inflation Rate,” Education Data Initiative, last updated Aug. 10, 2022, (Numerous calculations. e.g., “After adjusting for currency inflation, college tuition has increased 747.8% since 1963.”)

College presidents pay. Anya Kamenetz, “More College Presidents Join the Millionaires’ Club,” nprEd, Dec. 13, 2017, (“The chief executives of 59 private colleges and seven public universities took home more than $1 million in total compensation in 2015, according to an analysis released this week by The Chronicle of Higher Education.”)

Darian Somers and Josh Moody, “10 Public Universities Run by Highest-Paid Presidents; These university presidents make at least $1 million,” USNews Education, Aug. 6, 2019, (“The U.S. president makes $400,000 per year. But numerous university presidents make more than double that. At least 40 National University presidents earn twice what President Donald Trump does on a yearly basis, according to a 2019 report from The Chronicle of Higher Education.”)

Total student loan debt. Anna Helhoski, Ryan Lane, “Student Loan Debt Statistics: 2022,” Nerdwallet, Aug. 25, 2022, (“Student loan borrowers in the United States owe a collective nearly $1.75 trillion in federal and private student loan debt as of August 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.”)

Lycurgus. “Lycurgus (lawgiver),” (“Lycurgus (/laɪˈkɜːrɡəs/; Greek: Λυκοῦργος Lykourgos; fl. c. 820 BC) was the quasi-legendary lawgiver of Sparta ….”)

De Tocqueville, “every citizen.” See above, “Alexis de Tocqueville” and “Quotes from ‘Democracy in America.’”

National Council for the Social Sciences.

“Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools.” “Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools; A Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies,” Approved 2013, (“As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public.1 The goal of schooling, therefore, is not merely preparation for citizenship, but citizenship itself; to equip a citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for active and engaged civic life.”)

One researcher found. Shawn Healy [Civic Learning Scholar, McCormick Foundation; taking “con” position], “Con,” Marcia Clemmitt, “Civic Education: Are Students Learning How to be Good Citizens? Pro/Con Should states make the U.S citizenship test a graduation requirement” CQPress, CQ Researcher, Feb. 3, 2017, (“students did best when discussing current events in class daily, simulating democratic processes regularly and engaging in community service annually. These practices are too often neglected in content-centered courses, and students depart with a fleeting knowledge base and are poorly prepared for the demands of democratic governance.”)

Claire Nader book. Claire Nader, “You Are Your Own Best Teacher: Sparking the Curiosity, Imagination, and Intellect of Tweens,” Essential Books, Washington, D.C., (2022) (Jonathan Kozol (author, “Death At An Early Age”): “[An] engaging book about the need for children . . . to speak without self-censorship and to ‘open their own doors and windows’ …”

Juliet Schor (Boston College Professor of Sociology): “Should we be surprised that young people, such as Greta Thunberg, Leah Namugerwa, and Jamie Margolin sparked the largest climate change demonstration in history? No, says Claire Nader … in this engaging, surprising, and wise book ….”

Plus seven additional endorsements.)

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