What shall I tell the young on such a morning?--Mind is the one salvation?--Also grammar?--From Heart's Needle. "The Campus on the Hill" by W.D. Snodgrass. Copyrightc 1959 by William Snodgrass. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf Inc.(1)
What shall I tell my young and not-so-young on such a morning? Image is the one salvation? Also soundbites?
No. I want them to understand that public relations is more than creating images, and more than just learning the labels that identify the parts of the discipline. What I really want to do is be the kind of teacher that Northrup Frye describes in "Literary and Linguistic Scholarship in a Postliterate World," one who tries to transform "a passive literacy into an active postliteracy, with the responsibility and freedom of choice that is part of any world we want to live in."(2) I want to be the kind that requires students to do more than "learn to read and respond to traffic signals and advertising; learn to cipher and do our income taxes." But providing beginning students with a framework to truly understand the road to success is challenging, perhaps more challenging in public relations courses than in many others.
As White, Oukrop and Nelson point out,"...the uniqueness of public relations education involves not so much the individual courses it comprises but the gestalt its unusual combination of theory and practice evokes."(3) Helping students put that gestalt into perspective is a major challenge for teachers. It constitutes a challenge that requires both teacher and students to employ all of their critical abilities.
I believe that this challenge can be met by helping students apply the critical skills they developed earlier in their academic careers. Encouraging this kind of curricular connectedness is supported by the Commission on Undergraduate Public Relations Education, which has stated that "...the traditional arts and sciences remain the solid basis for undergraduate education of public relations students, essential to their functioning professionally in a complex society."(4) Consequently, I believe that connecting those bases with critical thinking skills is a necessary part of every public relations curriculum. Creative and innovative approaches are needed if we are going to succeed.
The practice of public relations has become extremely complex. The competent practitioner must internalize the following:
* An ability to identify and understand the relative needs of all major and man minor internal and external publics.
* An understanding of the importance and applications of policies, practices rules, procedures, laws, regulations and precedents--from personnel policies to union work rules-that govern the con. duct of an organization.
* A working knowledge of the technical, scientific and professional foundations of an organization's products and services
* An awareness of and sensitivity to the attitudes and values of individuals and groups in the geographic area an organization serves and in venues far beyond it normal areas of activity.
* The skills to analyze, synthesize and communicate effectively on the many meanings that are derived from all of those associations and relationships.
Indeed, Philip Lesly points out: "Public relations people have the role of being always in the middle--pivoted between their clients/employers and their publics. ...This role 'in the middle' does not apply to any other group that deals with the climate of attitudes."(5)
Understanding such complex relationships in a constantly changing business environment is not easy; not for the professional practitioner and less so for the beginning student. Edward Bernays recognized this problem in 1923 in his attempt to define the nature of the profession, and to identify the demands placed on the practitioner:
The public relations counsel is first of all a student. His field of study is the public mind. …