Monday, June 1, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 1 (2)


Neil Postman devotes two chapters in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death to analyzing literacy rates from the colonial era through the 1900s. He says, “And although literacy rates are notoriously difficult to assess, there is sufficient evidence that between 1640 and 1700, the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between 89 and 95 percent. […] The literacy rate for women is estimated to run as high as 62 percent in the years 1681-1697.”(1)

He proceeds to give details of the American Lyceum movement throughout the 1800s, on which Alfred Bunn, a visiting Englishman, remarked, “It is a matter of wonderment…to witness the youthful workmen, the over-tired artisan, the worn-out factory girl…rushing…after the toil of the day is over, into the hot atmosphere of the over-crowded lecture room” to hear intellectuals speak for hours.(2)

Postman lists the number of copies of various books sold in cities as a percent of the population, indicating that every adult bought and read books.

Postman goes on to explain how the age of show business has made banning books completely pointless – no one even wants to read books anymore. He believed that our love for the “technologies that undue our capacity to think” would make us into a culture that would lose its intellectual appetite and subsequently its ability to process difficult ideas or large quantities of information.

In 1985, he prophetically assessed our current educational predicament well, since entertainment and pleasurable distractions from literacy are plentiful today.

(1) Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 2005), 31.
(2)Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 40.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

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