on March 7, 1999
Postman uses an ambiguous title that reflects the meaning of his book. The "end" may be construed as the purpose or reason for education or the end may represent his concern over the future of public education. For Postman, the survival of public education rests upon its purpose. He suggests that early purposes of education such as democracy, the melting-pot concepts, and Protestant work ethic have been lost. In addition, the "gods" of consumerism and technology have also failed. He suggests that the reader consider his five purposes for education as a means for its survival. These include his belief that education should exist so individuals become responsible for the planet earth. Another is that educators must enable their students to view knowledge in terms of a past and a future. Students must learn that mistakes are a source of learning rather than a fatality. Another is to extend the notion of the "American experiment." A love of country must be taught, and the foundation and arguments upon which this country were built should continue. Schools should teach and respect diversity; diversity should be a point of unification, not division. An understanding of language and its creation of a worldview is another purpose of education. While I found his purposes interesting, I question their being embraced and actually upheld by educators across the country. Nevertheless, Postman presents an interesting perspective!
on January 27, 1999
I once taught at a university in which the Humanities building had no windows. It was as if we were expected to be inclosed within ourselves, divorced from nature and the world, studying life from pages and computers instead of directly. The walls were drab, the corridors monotonous, and this was the place I was to teach the highest expressions of human culture, and most importantly, what is it to be or "become" human.
Neil Postman's book is more than just refreshing. He makes a clear distinction between teaching as a kind of engineering feat--through books, transparencies, film, computers and whatever the latest delivery system is--and teaching as introducing the student to himself or herself and to the world. This book is about teaching diversity, in the real sense of the word. And this book is about the problem of education not being so much "how" we teach or "what" we teach, but that we lack a substantial goal. We lack a metaphysic.
If you do not understand what it means to lack a metaphysic, then this book is for you. It is one thing to lose something and know that we have lost it (a wallet, for example), but if we lose something (such as a sense for what a metaphysic is) and we don't even know it is lost, we will not even know enough to look for it.
If we have lost the sense of our lives being ordered toward some end, then indeed we are permanently lost. And we are just teaching randomly and learning randomly, as we try to become better producers and better consumers. Is that what we are? Neil Postman says no. We are much more.
I encourage every teacher who cares about teaching to read this book. I encourage every student who has wondered why we have to study so many unnecessary things, to read this book. It will help the teacher reorient his or her teaching and it will help the student articulate the pain and fear he or she feels upon entering a classroom, and the reasons for his or her boredom in the face of what ought to be adventurous learning about the world and about himself or herself. It will give the student words so he or she can stand up in class and demand something better.
on February 1, 2003
Most of the current debate in education involves `means': teaching methodologies, national testing, privatization, etc. This book focuses on a different, less frequently discussed aspect of the crisis in education: what should we be teaching in the first place?
Inherent in all cultures and activities are purposes that drive actions. For schools, its most common objectives (such as technological competence, consumership, acquisition of practical skills, and multiculturalism) have failed to inspire spiritual and intellectual learning. Postman proposes five concepts (humanity's place in the universe, independent thinking, America's form of government, diversity, understanding technology's impact) to focus education around that in a number of ways grapple with the most significant issues the world faces today.
Given the significance of education, and the fact that everyone is both directly and indirectly affected by its results, readers will find this an important and insightful book. It is especially excellent for educators seeking meaningful content and context for their lessons. Like all of Postman's writing, it is a concise, witty, and interesting read.
on July 29, 2004
I have assigned this book to my freshman college students rather than the usual overpriced college anthologies that the publishing companies pawn off on teachers who march in lockstep to their curriculum, not necessarily because they are mean-spirited; rather they've become technocrats focused more on how to structure a paragraph than how to mold a life. My students, time after time, have come up to me, and have said, "I always knew there was something wrong with my education, but I never could put a finger on what it was. This book has finally put into words what I couldn't explain myself." It just might have the same effect on you. It is interesting that some of the subjects Postman believes are essential to any curriculum are those subjects which have been honored in traditional, autocthnonous cultures such as "spaceship earth" and ecology (Native Americans); the origins of meaning and values (All cultures); rhetoric (The Greeks, the Middle Ages)--expanded to include media literacy, not just the nature of written language. Some may call his ideas "utopian" or "impractical." However, I believe his point is that such topics would not be considered as such if we lived in a society that still had some common "ground of being," was not fanatically materialistic or increasingly jingoistic, and addressed the complexities of values and religion in a competent and thorough rather than in the current vacuous "soundbite" modality that permeates all public discourse including that of people who should know better. When Oprah has six Christian theologians on her show and ends it by saying, "In 30 seconds, I'd like each of you to provide your definition of faith," and then see them actually try to fulfill the task, it's pretty scary. Why didn't at least one of them say, "I cannot provide you with a definition of faith in 30 seconds"? Could it be "The End of Education"?
Neil Postman says out loud what many informed observers, both inside and outside the education establishment have been whispering to one another for sometime now. He takes on sacred cows, and ingrained assumptions about the purpose of education. This book develops a cogent theory of how we can educate human beings, humanely and successfully.
The book is extremely well-written; the prose does not get in the way of the ideas, which is refreshing in a book about education issues. His arguments are carefully laid out, well-supported, and documented. Whether you agree with him or not, he provokes clear thought. If you agree with him, this book will force you to examine the consequences of your positions. Should you happen to disagree with him, the process of working out how and why you disagree with him will make your positions stronger.
A very fine book, highly recommended to anyone who cares about the future of education in the USA.
on February 2, 2003
The title End of Education is not as cynical as I had
expected. I had interpreted "End" to mean "finish" although
the book is really more about the "purpose" and
priorities of our schools. Postman makes a well-argued
case for profound changes in our approach to public
"The question is not Does or doesn't public schooling
create a public? The question is, What kind of public does
it create?" For me that is the most important premise
in this book, because people who don't understand our
history and our constitution, and who have no critical
thinking skills, are not going to be effective
participants in our democracy.
Another important point deals with multiculturalism vs.
cultural pluralism. Postman argues for a "constructive
and unifying use of diversity." American schools need
to create Americans, who appreciate the various cultural
backgrounds that make up our society, but divisiveness
created in the name of multiculturalism is counter-
The first half of this book discusses "gods" or narratives.
"...Teachers must have a god to serve, or, even better
several gods... Without a narrative, life has no meaning.
Without meaning, learning has no purpose." For example,
the god of Consumerism has been partially responsible
to steering our schools off course. Personally, I think
the god metaphor was belabored.
"Public education does not serve a public. It creates
a public." That's why schools play a critical role
in the future of our economy and our democracy.
And that's why this is such an important book.
on July 21, 2000
Just how radical this book is depends, I suppose, on your investment in education. From a teacher's prespective, I find in startling refreshing and valuable, because Postman is willing to take on difficult, "sacred cow" movements in education in a cogent manner. He isn't trying to be controversial...on purpose, but he will if he has to do so.
For example, he takes on multiculturalism, an approach that is strong and getting stronger in our public schools. For Postman, it is important to maintain and present a common cultural heritage--something that will unify all of us--and yet maintain separate, sub- or minicultures in our homes and communities. But he presents his arguments with support and erudition, so that whatever your position might be after reading him, it will be something worth defending. In other words, it is worth reading this book if you care at all about education.
Lastly, it's short, written clearly and without verbosity or grandstanding.
on May 19, 2003
The blurb of the book is interesting enough to make one want to pick it up. And when one does begin the voyage, one realizes immediately that the author isnt talking about the end of education in terms of its being finished, rather he is speaking of the Purpose of education. Once this distinction is made, Postman brilliantly argues about how all of today's educational initiatives in the US are more about the means, and hence do not address any root change in the learning process. He then goes on to categorically define the problems in the first part of the book, and his ideas quite almost leap out of the pages in the second part of the book as he boldly architects a probable scenario of the future of education, in terms of its driving purpose.
In doing so, the author gives numerous examples to illustrate his points of view, while all the while admitting that the book is not an exhaustive list of ideas, rather an exhaustion of his mind! Quite a brilliantly written book that cannot but stop and make the reader think. It would be a very different world if every teacher in high school read this book and implemented just even a small part of it in their teaching and actions. In no ways a negative, it must be noted that Postman's religious beliefs and admiration for the US is thrown into sharp relief in his writings.
Lastly, this book gave me 13 books and 7 authors as a potential list to read up on, the book is verily a rich source of ideas and allows the reader to make his own reading list to explore some of the ideas in depth and reach his/her own path.
on August 26, 2002
If one is a Postman reader to write that this is a great book is almost irreverent. I don't mean to say that anyone -including Professor Postman- is beyond criticism. I am trying to say that stating that "Postman is a fascinating writer, incisive in his commentary, original in his thinking" is very much obvious.
Aside of all the "banalities" what I may add for this book is that although its intended audience is American is very appropriate for other countries, at least of the western world (certainly very fitting for Greece), and I suspect for the majority of the countries, where policymakers, teachers, parents and students are struggling with the meaning of education. I suspect that the problems of education are universal and the questions that Postman poses are universal too.
I know, actually I have learned from Postman, that there are great and established scholars in the field of education - and I must admit that I am not familiar with their writings, but I will dare saying that you cannot afford NOT to read this book. By the way, having read other Postman's books I might suggest that this one probably is one of his better ones, bringing many intended and unintended gifts, such as lessons on language as a tool of understanding the world, the issue of multiculturalism, of patriotism, or religion, and how all these concepts pertain to today's world. Buy this book!
on July 1, 1998
So perhaps you hate to read, maybe someone has recommended this, or your professor is forcing you to read Postman, prepare yourself, your way of looking at the world we live in (modern media world) is about to change. Postman transforms everything you take for granted (television news for example) and stands it on its ear, forcing you to admit that you never really knew what you were looking at. Postman's books are for any citizen of the modern world who worries that information, and education have fat and junk food qualities that need to be curbed - indeed cut out.
Educators and parents especially should pay attention. Postman shakes your world.