Neil Postman at possibly his most curmudgeonly and that’s saying something. This feels like an old man’s work, a last chance to have a word about the world. He would die a few years later, but more so than growing old, he’s been proven right in so many of ideas, analyses, and predictions. That’s not to say I agree with everything he’s saying here, but he is right about plenty.
The focus of the book is to look back on the 18th century as the last time in the world of thought before the changes of the 19th and 20th centuries brought deep upheaval to people, government, and experience.
He simplifies 18th century into a single tension: between rationalists and romantics. This is an oversimplification of an oversimplification, but it works for now. The book then moves into a dozen or so different topics like language, narrative, education, childhood, etc. The book then becomes a greatest hits of Neil Postman’s career. It’s a good primer with some additional focus the ideas of 18th century thinkers.
quote: “The opposite of a correct statement is an incorrect statement. The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth (Niels Bohr).” By this, he means that we require a larger reading of the human past, of our relations with each other, the universe and God, a retelling of our older tales to encompass many truths and to let us grow with change.”
Teaching as a Subversive Activity – 2/5 Stars
It’s always a little frustrating to read what Neil Postman says, and even more so to read what he has to say about teaching. I think he generally dislikes teachers. In some of his other books, he basically reveals that not only does he not actually know what the lived reality of teachers are in the act of teaching, but that he premises his opinions of them based on what either was once true pre-1968 or so or based on the image he created of them at some point.
For the most part, this book is sorely outdated. That’s not to say that it’s wrong in all it says; in fact most of it is right. But the issue does not lie in the power of in the act of individual teachers to simply change their way of teaching then voila. For one, standardized testing has broken teaching. So where this book seems to indicate a model of teaching that is much more importantly and brilliantly realized in Paolo Friere’s Pedgogy of the Oppressed (a book that came out in about the same moment as this book), the enthusiasm and fixes are better too.
Parts of this book are hilariously embarrassing too. Any dialog that Postman creates as a model is awful, truly. And while, again, he’s right about plenty, the issue remains that there’s few teachers I know that don’t already believe this, don’t already try this different stuff out, would get fired if we actually did some of the structural things he’s talking about, or have huge institutional walls blocking them.
My issue is not what he’s saying, but who he’s telling it to.