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Teaching as a Subversive Activity Paperback – July 15, 1971

ISBN-13: 978-0385290098 ISBN-10: 0385290098

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Delta Publishing (July 15, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385290098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385290098
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neil Postman was chairman of the department of communication arts at New York University. He passed away in 2003.

Customer Reviews

Very lucid writing style and logical support of arguments.
Arpan Chokshi
Quite simply one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read.
Neil Hinrichsen
I am a teacher who uses the principles in my classroom and they work.
J. C. Morgan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Neil Hinrichsen on June 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Quite simply one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read. However hard it is to get a copy, it is MUST reading for anyone involved in educating people. Heavily influenced by McLuhan, this book is devastating in showing what classrooms REALLY teach - that there is one right answer, that the teacher has it, that memorising facts is important, that fellow students have nothing to contribute, etc etc - and how to construct an environment in which REAL learning takes place - where people learn how to learn themselves. This is one of those books that shakes one's previously-unexamined foundational assumptions of education. I cannot recommend it too highly.
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111 of 134 people found the following review helpful By stoic VINE VOICE on March 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Most reviewers seem to like Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I am not among the book's fans.

The book's authors, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, score a number of points. They manage to "nail" educators for relying too much on the lecture method in which students copy, then memorize, the teacher's opinions. This is a very valid criticism; teachers do little to teach students how to think; we settle for teaching them what to think. The authors make another good point about the tyranny of testing, which has become far worse since the early 1970s.

Beyond these points, I found the book to be lacking. I think that the authors meander too far from their original point - that teaching needs to be reformed. They discuss an incredible array of topics in just over 200 pages, but the discussions are superficial due to the book's excessive breadth. And their digressions are not engaging and are often only tangentially related to teaching. For instance, the long list of quotations at the end of Chapter 7 is mind numbing.

The authors' arguments remind me of the old saw that it is easier to tear down a system than it is to build a new one. Many of their suggestions are quixotic, or just laughable. Consider what the authors suggest administrators do if students write graffiti about their teachers in school bathrooms; in this case, Postman and Weingartner state that the administrators should chisel the students' words on the front of their schools. Are they joking? Did the authors ever actually attend high school?

Some of the other ideas have the sound of bad 60s hangovers. For instance, Yale University adopted the authors' idea about eliminating grades in the early 1970s - with disastrous results.
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60 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Ponsford (ponsford_kerry@msmail.asd.k12.ak.us) on March 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When the first chapter of a book on education is called 'Crap Detecting', you know you are on to a winner! Postman's provocative look at the nature of the classroom and how we educate our children is a must read by anyone who has a real interest in education being about more than tests and tick boxes. I have read this book many times and have never failed to be challenged, enthused and uplifted by it. My classroom and teaching style has been transformed by it - read it!!! Your teaching will never be the same again!
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 1997
Format: Paperback
This book is easily within the five best books I ever read. I read it through maybe 15 times. It helped explain to me my 12 years of school - what actually went on there. It has highly provocative ideas concerning what goes on in school. It still help guides me in my advanced and home studies. Highly recommended for all students, and teachers. A very good read for all who are not brain dead. I am not a teacher
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55 of 75 people found the following review helpful By J. Miller on April 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book has some pleasant surprises, but leaves the reader with an overall sense of frustration.

The book's appeal today is not what it would have been in 1969. At publication, the book was probably radical for its experimental approach to education that suggests that stimulating creativity and questioning is more important than the transference of raw data to students. Today it is fascinating because it makes you wonder, Did people really think like this? Were the 1950's as mindless and autocratic as this book seems to suggest? Has no one since Socrates suggested this kind of provocative education?

The book becomes frustrating if you attempt to seriously apply their conclusions today. In suggesting that education cater primarily to the felt needs of students instead of communicated what is decidedly essential curriculum, the authors have committed intellectual suicide. If you let high school students shape their studies around their interests, there would be classes in fashion and video games and blogging. The classes would be less likely to have reading lists, and instead only movies to watch.

Sadly, the book begins by quoting Hemingway's suggestion that we need a "[...] detector" (p. 5). The next four chapters are then pretty much some of that. It suggests that education should gravitate in the direction of questioning, relevance, and addressing only what the students feel is worth knowing. This is like telling children that they should only take the medicine that tastes good.

Then, surprisingly, the book improves (I'm wondering if one of the authors picked up here). It enters into a layman's take on perspectivalism (C. 6).
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