Listen to a 1960s Voice

The most honored book in the pedagogy section of the Paragraph City library is from the sixties: Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. I read it as an undergraduate in an English education curriculum; I loved it. It bashed the old school, literally.

In my late teens and early twenties I felt I’d been largely cheated, mocked, demeaned and blinded by my high school education, with the exception of a few heroic teachers, all in English, who had saved me. Teaching as a Subversive Activity made so much sense to me, explained my feelings and pointed toward what was wrong. And it suggested that I could know how to make a new school. The book was a call I wanted to answer, I thought I was answering.

So I recently got the book off the shelf, curious and half expecting to be disappointed by it. But I’m not. Maybe I’m just feeling the hooks into my past, but I can feel it all coming back to me: the call for revolution in the schools, the powerful sense that we can make the foundations shake. For now, just one example:

“[McLuhan] contends that most of us are incapable of understanding the impact of new media because we are like drivers whose gaze is fixed not on where we are going but on where we came from. It is not even a matter of seeing through the windshield but darkly. We are seeing clearly enough, but we are looking at the rearview mirror. Thus, the locomotive was first perceived as an ‘iron horse,’ the electric light as a powerful candle, and the radio as a thundering megaphone. A mistake, says McLuhan. these media were totally new experiences and did to us totally new things” (Postman & Weingartner 26).

Podcasting, course management systgems, online instruction, 24/7 instruction, smart classrooms and how many faculty are still lecturing. The voice of the book comes from the turbulent sixties and makes perfect sense today.

Postman, Neil and Charles Weingartner. Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York, Dell: 1969.

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