Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Finding a Reason to Learn

The End of Education by Neil Postman

I moved on to this book after reading Mr. Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. In this book, Mr. Postman examines the reasons for education and proposes a number of narratives that could engage students and teach them something actually worth learning.

I wish I had been able to write a blog post for each chapter as I read them. It would have been interesting for me to see my own thoughts moving through the book. While I don't agree with everything, I think he has produced a book that challenges some of the weaknesses of education, public education in general. (The book is written for public education, though many of his suggestions could fit well with homeschooling, especially classical education, from what I understand of it.)

I won't delve into the meat of his book, not because I think it unworthy of conversation or because I agree with him completely, but simply because I don't have the time. I will say that his premises and proposals were thought-provoking and I'm putting this book on my list to read again in a few years when my children are older. Mr. Postman certainly wants to challenge us (and teachers):

Textbooks, it seems to me, are enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning. They may save the teacher some trouble, but the trouble they inflict on the minds of students is a blight and a curse.

Charlotte Mason methods call for living books rather than textbooks and it's one of the reasons her philosophy appeals so much to me. Even as a science major in college, I found the historical study of research and discoveries, experiments and failures, more exciting and meaningful than the textbooks. I do think textbooks have their place, but I hope to avoid them myself as much as possible in our home. Mr. Postman gives a number of arguments against textbooks, but the one that seems strongest is that "textbooks are concerned with presenting the facts of the case (whatever the case may be) as if there can be no disputing them, as if they are fixed and immutable. And still worse, there is usually no clue given as to who claimed these are the facts (there being no he or she, or I or we)." One of the greatest enlightening moments of university life can be sitting in a lecture hall with a professor who systematically attacks the statements of a professional colleague presented in a textbook as fact. I see no reason this moment must be confined to university.

Kansas Dad has to endure meeting after meeting on mission statements and vision statements and core subjects and requirements. Everyone always says they want the students to learn to think critically, not just memorize facts. Our fear is that by focusing only on the "thinking" (and not understanding exactly how they propose to do so and how they will be able to tell if they are successful), students will graduate without any depth of knowledge at all. Mr. Postman's book seems to address just that question - how to teach students to think critically and still make sure they actually learn something.


  1. No way! This book is sitting on my nightstand, waiting for me to read. I have read a couple chapters. I agree--a blogger could blog every chapter (at least, that is my take from the chapters I've read so far). There is a lot there, but Postman is like that. You make me look forward to digging in a little more when I find the time. Thanks for the review--I always appreciate your reviews.

  2. I thought of you while reading it and think you'll enjoy it. I'd be interested to know what you think of it, too.


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