1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Friday, November 04, 2011

Neil Postman's Contribution

In his penultimate book, Neil Postman made an observation akin to that mythical child who pointed out that the Emperor was wearing no clothes:
At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living. Such an enterprise is not eaasy to pursue, since our politicians rarely speak of it, our technology is indifferent to it, and our commerce despising it. Nonetheless, it is the weightiest and most important thing to write about.

Not everyone agrees, of course. In tracking what people have to say about schooling, I notice that most conversation is about means, rarely about ends. Should we privitize our schools? Should we have national standards of assesment? How should we use computers? What use can we make of television? How shall we teach reading? And so on. Some of these questions are interesting and some are not. But what they have in common is that they evade the issue of what schools are for. It is as if we are a nation of technicians, consumed by our expertise in who something should be done, afraid or incapable of thinking about why (The End of Education, p. x)

He's spot on. We still have all the blather about education reform and nary a peep about ultimate goals (What kind of person should an educated person be? What kind of life is the good life -- irrespective of career choices? What bonds of friendship make life better (or worse)? What kinds of educational systems will facilitate or divert us from answering these questions in a positive way?)

Ah, Neil, I don't know what you believed about ultimate reality, but pray for us! We need all the help we can get.

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