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The End of Education

by Neil Postman

 

Neil Postman argues schools should emphasize three As: Astronomy, anthropology, and archeology. It does not matter much what gets taught, he claims, what matters is wow-ability. The three As are more intellectually fun than other subjects. Ergo, better.

 

Unfortunately, the three As are bad idea. It does matter what is taught. Reading and writing and logic matter. And it matters what is read and written.

 

Anthropology, archeology, and astronomy have little practical value, little of moral value, and little of artistic value. Anthropology and archeology often teach individuals that because some tribe does something it makes it acceptable. They teach individuals how to live by describing how other people live rather than by making arguments about how people should live.

 

The wow-ability of astronomy is overrated. If we should prefer wow-ability, why not make the curriculum monster trucks, professional wrestling, and soap operas?

 

The best ideas in this book are his technology ideas, which can be found elsewhere, too. They include:

        Sometimes technologies provide overall benefit and sometimes they do not. And even the beneficial ones harm some. And the harmful ones benefit some. They are not neutral. Whenever I hear someone say technologies are neutral, it makes me react the same as when I hear someone say evil religious individuals must not really be religious. I want to puke.

        Technologies come with implied or explicit philosophies delivered by the faithful. The peddlers of technologies compete for our attentions and admiration.

 

Televisions and technologies, however, are not alone in their abilities to amuse ourselves to death. So can the curriculum offered here. Subject matter is not everything in the classroom, but it is not nothing either. Curriculums are often political and arbitrary, but not this arbitrary. The author says technologies are ecological, and I say, so are curricula. Not recommended.

 

book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 24, 2009

 

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