Archive for July 17th, 2003

Conscientious Objections, by Neil Postman

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Subtitled “Stirring up trouble about language, technology, and education”, this book is a collection of essays by Neil Postman. Postman’s best known work is “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, a book describing how television is destroying American’s ability to think critically. Postman’s main interests include semantics (the study of meaning and language) and education and culture. These essays cover all of these topics and more.

He proposes several radical ideas to improve education – I especially liked the idea of including Creation Science in the curriculum of schools (in the essay “Columbusity”). Wait, you say, that’s a terrible idea! His point, though, was that we include it and then judge it by the standards of science. Rather than teach evolution and natural selection by rote, as if we were quoting the scripture of Darwin, start by teaching the scientific method, the idea of falsifiability of hypotheses, etc. Then take the two theories and put them up against the scientific method. It will teach the students to think critically and judge for themselves, rather than blindly accept what they’re told. Another idea was to treat education like we treat health (“The Educationist as Painkiller”). Doctors don’t try to instill health, they try to cure sickness. He proposes that educators don’t try to make students intelligent, because we don’t know how to do that, but instead try to cure stupidity in “some of the more obvious forms, such as either-or thinking; overgeneralization; inability to distinguish between facts and inferences; and reification, a disturbingly prevalent tendency to confuse words with things.”

He also has several scathing essays about the overwhelming power of television, from instilling a new set of ethics and morality (in “The Parable of the Ring around the Collar” and “The News”), to the fear that the medium is turning us into an aliterate (able to read, but choose not to) culture dominated by images and sound bites (“The Disappearance of Childhood”). Lots of very interesting ideas. I actually kept this book past its due date to finish reading it (because I didn’t pick it up until the day before its due date to start reading it).

Some of his writings are available on the web if you’re curious to read more.

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Speaking of biking, I just finished the San Juan huts mountain bike tour from Durango to Moab: plus.google.com/u/1/+EricNehrl…

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