Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Neil Postman - The End of Education


The title of my book was carefully chosen with a view toward its being an ambiguous
prophecy. As I indicated at the start, The End of Education could be taken to express a severe
pessimism about the future. But if you have come this far, you will know that the book itself
refuses to accept such a future. I have tried my best to locate, explain, and elaborate narratives
that may give nontrivial purposes to schooling, that would contribute a spiritual and serious
intellectual dimension to learning. But I must acknowledge—here in my final pages—that I am
not terribly confident that any of these will work.
Let me be clear on this point. I would not have troubled anyone—least of all, written a book
—if I did not think these ideas have strength and usefulness. But the ideas rest on several
assumptions which American culture is now beginning to question. For example, everything in
the book assumes that the idea of "school" itself will endure. It also assumes that the idea of a
"public school" is a good thing. And even further, it assumes that the idea of "childhood" still
As to the first point, there is more talk than ever about schools' being nineteenth-century
inventions that have outlived their usefulness. Schools are expensive; they don't do what we
expect of them; their functions can be served by twenty-first-century technology. Anyone who
wants to give a speech on this subject will draw an audience, and an attentive one. An even
bigger audience can be found for a talk on the second point: that the idea of a "public school" is
irrelevant in the absence of the idea of a public; that is, Americans are now so different from
each other, have so many diverse points of view, and such special group grievances that there
can be no common vision or unifying principles. On the last point, while writing this book, I
have steadfastly refused to reread or even refer to one of my earlier books in which I claimed
that childhood is disappearing. I proceeded as if this were not so. But I could not prevent myself
from being exposed to other gloomy news, mostly the handwriting on the wall. Can it be true,
as I read in The New York Times, that every day 130,000 children bring deadly weapons to
school, and not only in New York, Chicago, and Detroit but in many venues thought to provide
our young with a more settled and humane environment in which to grow? Can it be true, as
some sociologists claim, that by the start of the twenty-first century, close to 60 percent of our
children will be raised in single-parent homes? Can it be true that sexual activity (and sexual
diseases) among the young has increased by 300 percent in the last twenty years? It is probably
not necessary for me to go on with the "can it be true's?." Everyone agrees and all signs point to
the fact that American culture is not presently organized to promote the idea of childhood; and
without that idea schooling loses much of its point.
These are realistic worries and must raise serious doubts for anyone who wishes to say
something about schooling. Nonetheless, I offer this book in good faith, if not as much
confidence as one would wish. My faith is that school will endure since no one has invented a
better way to introduce the young to the world of learning; that the public school will endure
since no one has invented a better way to create a public; and that childhood will survive
because without it we must lose our sense of what it means to be an adult.

Postman, Neil. The End of Education Redeļ¬ning the Value of School . 1st. ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

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