Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Twitter Book Club: Neil Postman (1996) The End of Education - Chapter 7

The American Experiment

Neil Postman presents the American Experiment as a potential purpose of school that can serve. At first glance this purpose seems to align perfectly with Jeffersonian reasons for public schooling but the way Postman presents it it is more than that. In fact, I would argue that The American Experiment is really just a rich subcategory of The Fallen Angel. It is an argument that our country was founded on a grand experiment, or rather series of experiments, and the purpose of school is to serve as part of this experiment. If this is the case then the results of this experiment would contribute to the better understanding of our world as described by The Fallen Angel.

"Is it possible to provide a free public education to all citizens?" Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

This is a profound question that on the surface, like the question, "What is the purpose of school?" seems more simple than it really is. The simple answer, and the one that has been the excuse of most politicians and many school teachers and administrators, is that if a school program is offered to all citizens then all citizens have been provided with the opportunity to receive a free public education. However, this is simplistic thinking at best and what is at the heart of all the rhetoric around differentiated instruction and individualized learning. We don't all learn the same way, so in order to provide a free public education for all we have to provide different forms of it to different groups of students. When all variables are factored into this equation we realize that in asking this question we have opened a huge can of worms.

"education as a subject of study is rarely taken seriously even in college, for reasons I find too painful to discuss." Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

C'mon Neil! Why not discuss it? To do this to readers is unfair to say the least.

"Is it possible to preserve the best of American traditions and social institutions while allowing (cont) http://tl.gd/6ejs3kless than a minute ago via Twittelator

One question that doesn't get asked and one of the few faults I have with Postman's argument here is about the creation of new American traditions and social institutions. Regardless of technological innovations, is there value inherent in traditions or institutions? Or, is it the ends they serve that have value? So, the better question is, "Is it possible to preserve the best of American values and purposes while allowing uncontrolled technological development?" I think Postman might answer yes to that question.

"Do television and computer technology limit or expand opportunities for authentic and substantive freedom of expression?" Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

In 1996, no, in 2010 yes (at least with one of those two media).

"Do new media create a global village, or force people to revert to tribal identities?" Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

This is a question I think we need to keep asking ourselves, especially those of us heavily invested in participation in online communities like #edchat or the edublogosphere in general. Tribal identities used to be forged by geography, today they seem to be forged by ideology. I was first made keenly aware of this five years ago when a small group of girls at the ALC where I worked were fanatic about the subculture that had evolved around Japanese Mangas. They would come to school dressed in costume and largely participate in what seemed like antisocial behavior with the rest of the student body. But, when asked to tell us about Manga a rich community was revealed that seemed to be at the heart of the fascination. It became clear that it was not so much the content of the subculture that was the main source of their fascination but rather the community or tribe they became members of. The things they did that most of the rest of the school community thought were odd or bizarre were expected of them from their online community. They became so immersed in their subculture that they for all intents and purposes regarded it as their primary culture and our school as culturally foreign.

It took these two girls for me to realize that this activity is not abnormal anymore. Many of our students were Gangsta Disciples and others were Vice Lords. Gang culture has created this artificial subculture within our schools and communities for decades, even without modern connective technologies. Other kids became artificial cultural immigrants in their own communities because of fanatical association with one community supported interest or another. The introduction of tools like Myspace at that time made the ability to form tribes even more rampant. To some degree this is a good thing. It gives individuals the courage to be more individualistic in ways they express themselves. But, it can also produce incestuous thought and make the goal of creating a public even harder. I guess this is what we call the silo effect or the echo chamber.

"Do new media make schools obsolete, and create new conceptions of education?" Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

Back to the earlier question about institutions and traditions. I think it does make schools as we have known them obsolete but the conceptual institution of schooling I am not so sure about. Of course, our Unschoolers are evidence once again of the exception.

"We experiment to make things better, and we argue about what experiments are worthwhile and whether or not (cont) http://tl.gd/6ejvkeless than a minute ago via Twittelator

1 comment:

Mrs. Tenkely said...

Interesting thoughts on the ways that new media is changing the culture of schools. There have always been subcultures within a school, but what happened to the kid that didn't really fit into any of those subcultures? Now new media connects those kids and gives them a tribe to belong to. I think the key for school culture is helping students to appreciate each tribe even if they don't associate themselves with it.