Teaching as a Conservative Activity

Shea, George W.

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...In doing this, it has not only failed in these broader areas of endeavor, but has further di- minished its power to succeed with its primary teaching responsibility as well...
...Postman al- leges, however, that in attempting to do this, the school is itself inhibited by two serious weaknesses...
...One of the most popular literary genres of the past several decades has been the "bright idea" book, which pleads with us to see things in a new way, alarms us with staggering sets of statistics, predicts in alternate years, Armageddon and the return to Eden...
...And perhaps the community at large would have to offer a greater challenge to and put more trust in the history-teaching profession...
...Maurice R. Berube lifteen Thousand Hours is an impor- r tant contribution to the debate on the influence of schooling...
...On the one hand, it has itself sold out to technology, and especially to electronic gimmickry, to everything from phonographs to vid-eotapes, calculators to computers...
...ON TOUR IN AN EXTRAORDINARY ONE-MAN SNOW FOR INFORMATION OR TO SCHEDULE IN YOUR AREA ReligiousReference WorKs from Orbis PROPHETS DENIED HONOR An Anthology on the I Hispano Church of Ithe U.S...
...For Postman, these are rooted in its very nature, its use of images rather than language, its appeal to the Commonweal: 216 emotions rather than to the mind, its re- jection of logical sequences and history, of hierarchy and authority...
...This is, of course, a strug- gle which must go on...
...degree are designed to provide university-level training in theology as a basis for further graduate study, as academic preparation for teaching high school religion, or to help provide those active in ministry with new directions and insights...
...The idea of one new monster to face, the Cyclopean tube, is simple and romantic, but wrong...
...On the other, it has fallen prey to the utopian notion that it can remedy all the ills of society, assuming responsibility for tasks like sex education, amelioration of race relations and psychotherapy...
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...to be familiar with the intel- lectual and creative processes by which the best that has been thought and said has been produced...
...He condemns the use of media technol- ogy in classrooms, but strongly urges that the electronic media themselves be scrutinized and understood...
...He calls for the study of lan- guage and, more important, of the nature of language and communication itself...
...So powerful is the influence of these media, that Postman refers to them as "the fast curriculum...
...Is it not possible, for instance, that bright, normal children themselves "see through" television after a certain point and hence filter or even neutralize its power to some degree7 Finally, Postman seems dangerously close to embracing an historical fallacy in implying that, before the advent of elec- tronic media, the world was largely populated by a race of highly analytical, independent-minded, and upright be- ings, who were above being taken in by hucksters, con-men and fakers of any kind...
...In the final chapters of his book, Post- man spells out in greater detail how the school and its curriculum should be re- formed...
...I| Ill II 'l and restores focus to the efficacy of schooling on learning...
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...These books are terribly seductive...
...Program, Dept...
...In fact, it is the author's commonsense recommendations for school and curriculum reform that deserve our earnest attention...
...He sees this coher- ence as being achieved through a focus- ing upon the theme of the ascent of hu- manity and on the notion that: . ."to become educated means to UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME JUNE 23-AUGUST 6 Summer Graduate Programs in Liturgy and Theology leading to the M.A...
...He marshals impressive arguments for teaching cor- rect, yes even "better," elitist English and condemns egalitarian socio-linguistic theories...
...I FIFTEEN THOUSAND ll0UBS Michael Rutter et...
...If, in a given culture, what Postman calls the information environ- ment shows signs of excessive move-ment in one direction, education should remedy this aberration and restore a bal- ance...
...Postman will probably be attacked by tired educational liberals who cannot imagine their classrooms without bluejeans, movies and free-for-all orgies of creative writing...
...What Postman wants then is: . ."an education that stresses his- tory, the scientific mode of thinking, the disciplined use of language and a wide-ranging knowledge of the arts and religion, and the continuity of the human enterprise...
...First and foremost, he recommends that the schools respond to the formless discon- tinuity of the media curriculum with a reassertion of the coherence of its own educational program...
...It has, he claims, foisted upon educators a bad idea, disguised as a technique, an idea that has made knowing how to take a test more important than knowing truth, beauty or other practical skills...
...I I To understand Prof...
...But they might discover that history, as an intellectual discipline, can be fun and the very heart of the educational experience...
...In the end, such a cur- riculum produces a graduate who is pas- sive, uncritical, lonely and impatient of both community and authority, one with no sense of history or of the intercon- nectedness of human endeavors, one who, in the end, sees the electronic media as more real, as preferable to the world around him...
...The program contains some one and two week mini-courses which are open to students not enrolled for the full session...
...In doing so, he would be correct...
...now he has written another called Teaching as a Conservative Activ- ity...
...To remedy this, Postman suggests a number of educational reforms...
...As for Neil Postman, we should raise at least several questions about his bright idea on the relation of education to the information environment...
...He defines the information envi- ronment as the sum total of ways in which the members of a culture com- municate with one another, but stresses the fact that it controls more than just communication...
...Students and teachers alike would have to live with the academic/ intellectual ambiguity that comes from not having the causes and effects of the Civil War or Cold War numbered and spelled out in a blue box for easy playback on the exam...
...The hypothesis goes like this: educa- tion, which may be defined as culture's answer to the questions of a particular era, is best conceived of as a thermostatic activity...
...Vive la difference...
...of Theology, Univ...
...but we must see it in its historical context, as a process that is slow and painstaking, centuries long...
...And maybe students, sent to the library history stacks, would dis- cover real books...
...Neff Postman would probably agree with this and urge his reforms all the louder...
...What is more, they are gener- ally long on metaphor (education- thermostat) and short on documented proof...
...In our own culture, the electronic media domi- nate the information environment to such an extent, Postman asserts, that they exercise a high degree of control over all minds, and especially over the minds of the young...
...It is the task of the school curriculum to offer a counter-balancing force, to prevent the fwst curriculum from produc- ing this kind of intellectually and emo- tionally crippled citizenry...
...He is simply trying to make the thermostat work prop- erly...
...Such, alas, was not the case...
...Perhaps, on the high school and college level, if teachers, school boards, and students had no lavish volumes with rifles like The March of a Great Nation to lean on, publishers would commission and teachers would assign more books like Henry Steele Commager and Allan Ne- vins's Short History of the United States, and ask Thomas Flexner, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., James MacGregor Bums, Robert V. Remini and Stephen B. Oates (to select some names almost at random) to do some personal, brief, brighfly-written paperback biographies of Washington, Hamilton, Jackson, Lincoin, Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Emma Goldman, etc...
...Children between five and eighteen, he points out, spend 11,500 hours in classrooms but 15,000 hours in front of a television set, and closer to 20,000 hours watching or listening to all forms of electronic media combined...
...Postman has a keen sense of which way the social and intellectual wind is blowing...
...The Liturgy Program prepares students to serve as teachers of liturgy or directors of programs of Christian worship...
...It cuts against the grain of fashionable educational research Postman himself realizes that he is only imagining when he writes of the possibility that television may produce a population of "right-brained," nonanalyticai people...
...Furthermore, he goes on to suggest that the proper task of the second or school curriculum is to remedy the biases or excesses of the first, that is to reestablish a balance in the information environment...
...Antonio Stevens Arroyo, C.P...
...George W. Shea I N 1967 Neil Postman co-authored a book entitled Teaching as a Subver- sive Activity...
...What are the biases of the first media curriculum...
...It determines as well the way individuals perceive the world around them, and this is a major factor in shaping their values and behavior...
...Above all, it com- municates a cheerful and reassuring mes- sage in all of its parables: human needs can be easily met and problems easily solved by applying to them the modem technology which the corporate world is eager to provide...
...Common sense or bright idea TEACHINI...
...Major areas are liturgy, biblical studies, systematic theology, and history of religions...
...AS A CONSERVATIVE ACTIVITY Neff Postman Delacorte, $9.95, 244 pp...
...The media curriculum releases the individual from communal responsibility, promises him instant gratification and relieves him of the task of analysis...
...Eight years ago, Christopher Jencks and his colleagues presented a research study, Inequality, as the definitive word on schooling and society...
...Both overextended and co-opted by its rival, the school is unable to carry out its thermostatic or balancing task...
...Postman's argu- ment, it is necessary to explore his idea of an information environment somewhat further...
...Such criticism deserves to be ignored...
...We need bright ideas, of course, but we need also to test them...
...In their novelty they appear to offer instant profundity to the cocktail-party conver- sationalist...
...Ignorance is a hardy weed and has always adapted itself quickly to whatever information environment a cul- ture provides...
...Educators have always waged an unequal battle with the forces of darkness and superstition, and have always won over only a small percentage of humanity to the side of reasoned discourse and en- lightenment...
...One should not be surprised, there- fore, to find a single author advocating subversion in an excessively traditional environment and conservation in one that has abandoned tradition...
...But we also need to ask whether the amotjnt of time spent with electronic media and especially television is really a reliable indicator of the influence of that medium on children...
...Observing this, educators will sur- mise that Prof...
...They present sweeping ideas that seem to explain very simply ex-tremely complex human problems...
...Jencks ad- vanced the far from popular notion that schools have negligible effect in reduc- ing social inequality, and also that school resources have small impact on educaCommonweal: 218...
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...On the other hand, his more sweeping theses about the information environment, about the media and their relation to education, certainly need further scrutiny...
...to learn how to participate, even if as a lis- tener, in what Robert Maynard Hutch- ins once called The Great Conversa- tion, which is merely a different metaphor for what is meant by the ascent of humanity...
...10545 m "educational market"--can, intellectu- ally, do more harm than good...
...Indeed, Postman him- self has anticipated this reaction and has shaped a hypothesis to explain his ap- parent change of mind...
...Certainly this needs to be studied further...
...He calls for better manners, better dress and better attitudes toward school, and urges the elimination of all standardized tests.Indeed, it is for the Educational Testing Service that Postman reserves his most scathing condemnation...

Vol. 107 • April 1980 • No. 7


 
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