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August 30, 2015

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Neil Postman Had It Right—Back in the 80’s

by Peter Skillen

Childhood in the Technological Era

Another blast from the past. This time from 1987.

Many of the world’s best known educators were together at the Second International Congress on Early Childhood Education held in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1987. The major theme of the congress was caution versus enthusiasm in using computer technology with children.

Speakers included:

  • Neil Postman
  • Gavriel Salomon
  • Seymour Papert
  • Hubert Dreyfuss
  • Bruno Bettleheim
  • et moi! 😉

How fortunate I was to be presenting with such distinguished and influential thinkers and educators. In addition, Apple Canada asked me to write about the experience in their Minds in Motion journal.

FullSizeRenderApologies to those with screen readers. I do not have this converted to text—only images. However, I’ll highlight some of the points here for ease of reference. I ask you, ‘What resonates with you? What’s changed? What hasn’t changed?’

I will outline the points made by Neil Postman. Read the whole article below and the thoughts of the other speakers.

NEIL POSTMAN

Faustian Bargain

  • “All technological change is a Faustian bargain. For every advantage technology brings, there is always a disadvantage…and one may outweigh the other…New media create new centres of power and influence…the computer will provide our students new ways of thinking. Who will benefit—the children The schools? The state?”

The Technology of Marks is a Mathematical Concept of Reality

  • Embedded in every technology is a powerful idea. Some of these ideas are hidden from view. As an example, he cited the seemingly harmless practice of assigning grades to children’s work. Assigning marks is a tool or technology to judge a person’s behaviour. It is a mathematical concept of reality.

Philosophical Wars

  • “The philosophy embedded in a new technology always makes war with the philosophy embedded in an old technology.” Since the invention of the printing press, the written word (and its accompanying concepts of logic, sequence, history, and objectivity) has been the basis of our educational system. The new technologies of television and computers rely on immediacy, visual transfer of information, and subjective interpretation. Media wars are in effect in our world now. This is, of course, evident in our world now. Students who are on the wrong side of this war are the ones who are failing.

A New Medium Does not Add Something—It Changes Everything

  • “Technological change is not additive but is ecological.” Many people presume that when a new technology is introduced, it merely adds to the store of existing technologies. Postman suggests that this is not always the case. “A new medium does not add something—it changes everything.” He described Europe before the advent of the printing press and pointed out that Europe afterwards was not just Europe plus the printing press. It was, in fact, a new Europe. (Read Blue Dye plus Water? Or Blue Water? for another McLuhanist example of this concept. Also remember Seymour Papert’s words“If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”

Mythic Media

  • “Media tend to become mythic.” It is a common tendency to think of our own creations as God-given, part of the natural order. Because of this, our society doesn’t question the larger social, psychological ramifications even though we should. (Read It’s Not About the Tools? Really? for another view.)

Electronic Workbooks. Really?

  • “A technology is to a medium like the brain is to the mind. A technology is a tool to be used in various ways. One could, but would not, use a 747 to take commuters from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One could, but would not, use a television to present printed words on the screen. One could, but should not, use computers as an electronic workbook.”

Soooooo I ask you again, ‘What resonates with you? What’s changed? What hasn’t changed?’

(Click on the pictures below to see larger.)

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