Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The End of Education

Postman, Neil. (1995). The end of education: redefining the value of school. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Neil Postman offers a discussion of what the value of the American public educational system is and should be. Postman refers to these values as “narratives”. He begins by evaluating the purpose of values or “gods” in life, culture and schools. Postman argues “without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention” (Postman, 7). According to the book, the current three “gods” of education are: Economic Utility, Consumership, and Technology. The gods of Economic Utility and Consumership prepare students for the life they will have as an adult (to make money, to buy things) and the god of Technology creates an educational world outside the classroom that schools fail to utilize as a powerful resource. Postman offers his own suggestions about what the value of school should be by focusing on a narrative that speaks to the true value of humanity. In part two of the book, he discusses what he believes should be the fundamental teachings of public education. One of these includes viewing the world as “Spaceship Earth” which Postman explains would elicit a since of world ownership in students. If our youth saw themselves as part of a collective whole, they would be more willing to work together towards environmental issues, peace, etc. Postman also offers a curriculum based on the “Fallen Angel” approach: teach subjects by first teaching their histories. Through an examination of human trial, error, and ever changing thought, we can truly examine what “humanity” is and learn that mistakes are inevitable. Postman addresses the issue of diversity in education by communicating the importance of teaching culture through the history of American English and concludes his discussion with thoughts on the English language in general.

My Response:
Honestly, it took me a while to “get into” this book. Postman frequently switches back and forth between deep philosophical discussion and sarcastic comments which caused me to stop a few times and examine whether he was being serious or offering commentary on a current (usually political) situation. Style aside, I was struck by Postman’s ability to pinpoint the current value of our public educational system. During this reading, I asked a few students what they felt the purpose of education was… all responded in some way that echoed Postman’s theory: school is about job preparation and getting kids ready to make money. My concern with the solutions offered in the book is that these are passions of Postmans’, but not necessarily matters that most people would find essential or even necessary. I am curious to know how he envisioned public schools operating from a management level to better understand his ideas of how schools would function. Postman’s book reminds me of a recent conversation our entire staff had about a decision to “go charter”. After discussing many concerns over job security, etc., we finally started to talk about the meat “charter”: what could we do differently? Although the charter conversation was quickly dropped, it brought up a huge question, what was the vision for our school? I feel in many ways that although I’m not in total agreement with Postman, he brings up the same question, what is the vision for our schools?

“All children enter school as question marks and leave as periods… Someone obviously feels that the American Creed is an exclamation point, a finished product, a settled issue… I propose, then, the story of America as an experiment, a perpetual and fascinating question mark… The only thing we have to fear is that someone will insist on putting in an exclamation point when we are not yet finished” (70-74).

“I would suggest a different metaphor: teachers as error detectors who hope to extend the intelligence of students by helping them reduce the mistakes in their knowledge and skills” (120).

“There is nothing more human than the stories of our errors and how we have managed to overcome them, and then fallen into error again, and continued our efforts to make corrections- stories without end” (124).

“I am keeping in mind that the purpose of public education is to help the young transcend individual identity by finding inspiration in the story of humanity” (171).

Clarifying: Why did Postman choose to refer to the values of education as “narratives”? I suppose he wanted to reinforce the idea that they are an ever changing “story”, however the term confused me…

Postman writes “Free human dialogue, wandering wherever the agility of the mind allows, lies at the heart of education” (27), however he recommends/suggests/demands that students learn certain things presented by specific people… won’t his suggestions simply become the new set of “standards”? Where does he propose “wandering minds” fit into his picture of education?

1 comment:

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