In this comprehensive response to the education crisis, the author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity returns to the subject that established his reputation as one of our most insightful social critics. Postman presents useful models with which schools can restore a sense of purpose, tolerance, and a respect for learning.
Claiming that our current educational system teaches students to worship technology and consumerism, Postman argues for more humanistic "narratives" as the basis for schools.
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An Ideological Arrow Pointing to the Truth in Education
There are a number of problems with the current state of education. I know so because I changed careers, became a teacher, and started wondering why my ideas of education did not fit in today's school environment. My memory of a formal education from decades past only minimally resembled that which transpires in the classroom today. Initially, I thought I needed to be retrained. The longer I stay in education, the more I am convinced that the problem does not rest with me.
While he wrote "The End of Education" almost 20 years ago, Neil Postman's ideas remain both relevant and prescriptive today. I might quibble with some of his approaches or ideas, and I might wish to substitute a few ideas, but the main set of questions that Postman raises are valid today and should be addressed by Boards of Education, Superintendents, and Principals alike. While the "educationthink" of today addresses "strategies" to success with the threat of No Child Left Behind to force improvement, I have yet to experience anyone in education addressing the fundamental questions of why our schools exist, to what end, and for whose benefit. Answer those questions, add some discipline (which is sorely lacking in today's schools), then deliver a curriculum, and we might see student performance improve.
Among Postman's ideas that I find particularly appealing is rewarding students who find errors and make opposing arguments. As a Social Studies teacher, I spend time defining what "history" means. I can pick various definitions, including "whatever the last person wrote," "what the victor said," and "what I want to remember," but I always challenge students to see things from different perspectives. Now that I have read Postman's book, I am going to incorporate his idea in my classroom. I will indeed reward students for finding errors in my own presentations, in the textbook, etc. Double bonus if they present what they believe is a better "truth," and triple bonus if they make valid arguments and cite sources.