In The End of Education, Neil Postman (1995) revisits the education system with a critical eye towards the reasons we school our children. For Postman, education is, or should be, driven by a “god” which underlies all that is taught – the lens through which education is experienced by the student. Early on, he justifies his use of “god” as a synonym for “narrative” throughout his ideas by stating that, “a god… is a great narrative, one that has sufficient credibility, complexity, and symbolic power to enable one to organize ones life around it” (p.6). He is invoking a sociological context for the term, rather than the more familiar religious one. It is within this context that Postman examines the narratives which he believes are driving, and ones which he believes should be driving education in America.
#1. You are what you do for a living.
The first god is that of Economic Utility. Postman objects to the education system being viewed as a vehicle for producing skilled workers. Rather, we should be concerned with providing children a well-round, non-specialized schooling which produces individuals with a broad base of knowledge and skills which can be implemented and drawn upon in many different situations. He suggests that proponents of this type of philosophy reduce the humanity of the life experience.
#2. Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.
The second god that Postman suggests education is training our children to worship is the god of Consumership and Technology. Postman explains that this narrative seeks to reign by fear – if one does not accept and embrace the force of technological change, they risk social humiliation and personal unhappiness since they will be left behind when as the rest of society progresses. As children become more and more dependent upon commercial products for fulfillment, they begin to lose respect for original thought and nature. Can the enthusiasm for how computers are revolutionizing teaching really be compared to the zeal of the proponents of the radio, then the television, then films before them? Postman seems to think so.
#3. Why can’t we all just get along?
The third god – not nearly as widespread as the first two – is that of Multiculturalism. For Postman, this narrative, when used inappropriately, seeks to destroy history, rather than use it to improve the world. Serving this particular god focuses on failures and differences of the past, rather than the strengths and interactions between all people in the present.
Postman spends the rest of The End of Education laying blueprints for five narratives that he believes warrant the educational system’s devotion. The first four narratives deal mainly with sociological issues, while the “Word Weavers/World Makers” chapter really aims at portraying technoculture as a serious issue worth studying. Postman argues that students need to be educated in the history of technology, not just in how to use computers. By studying how our electronic society developed, we can gain insight into where it is headed. His main encouragement is for students to critically examine the role of technology and nature in their lives to ensure that they are balanced.
Ultimately, reading Postman will leave you both confused and intrigued. He has asked educators to critically examine their reasons for teaching, and has provided them with interesting frameworks from which to launch the next stages of their careers.
The End of Education ends with a list of 10 principles which Postman
believes should be essential outcomes for any study of technology in education.
It is a comprehensive and insightful list, worthy of serious study for
all educators who are attempting to bring this awareness into their curriculum.