AUTHOR: Neil Postman
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1996, (210 pages).
Part Two of the book contains Postman's five narratives to aid the redemption of education. His key point is that if any "narrative" does not serve us well, it may lead to the end of education. The first narrative is that of a "steward of the earth" described by Postman as "Spaceship Earth" narrative. It brings about an increased interdependence of people regardless of race or religion. Seeing the earth as the whole of man's responsibility is an added incentive for various people to work together. Earth is man's only spaceship and if man does not care enough for it, we will all perish. The second narrative is of a "Fallen Angel" that represents our tendency to be imperfect and make mistakes. Thus, the use of science in education is essentially helping us to correct our mistakes, knowing that we can try but we will never solve everything. There is a fundamental uncertainty in human capability. That is why this narrative is a good corrective against man's pride in seeking absolute perfection by his own. The third narrative is "the American Experiment." He cautions us from making education a "period" or an "exclamation mark" as if schooling will perfect one's education. No. Instead, learn to live as with "question marks." Even the American constitution that separates Church and State is to protect both Church and State from each other. Postman maintains that the Declaration of Independence is more of an "argument" rather than a doctrine cast in concrete. The narrative of the American Experiment enables students to graduate with open minds and endless learning. The fourth narrative is "the Law of Diversity" in which Postman offers an alternative to the "god of multiculturalism" mentioned earlier. Here, we learn to celebrate diversity without needing to pit any one's culture as superior over others. Education must not be dependent on any one culture or race. It needs to benefit all. It needs to be constructive. It needs to elevate the benefit of the community above the self. In honouring the diversity of us all, education with this narrative will be richer, more creative, and help make us more intelligent about humanity. The fifth narrative is that of "Word Weaver/World Makers." This is about speech, language, and creativity through words.
Postman ends with a plea for the educator to learn to teach students how to formulate questions, design metaphors, and cultivate the art of learning through language and narrative. One powerful point he makes is that while technology has entered the classroom, there is still a lack of "technology education," or learning how to use technology well. He cautions:
- Technology changes everything, so beware
- Technology has different emotional and intellectual biases, so take care
- Technology has different political, sensory, and social biases
- Technology have different content
Lest readers think that Postman is seeking to debunk all things technology, he is not. He is seeking to wake up a sleepy generation that has uncritically accepted technology, lock, stock and barrel. This book certainly needs to be read by anyone interested in public education. While the warnings appear to paint Postman as some kind of a technological doomsday prophet, I think it is more of a desire for redemption. For a cultural critic is not simply one to throw stones at culture and walk away, but to point out the blind spots that planners, leaders, administrators, and educators often miss.