Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 3 (3)


Neil Postman’s Challenge to Post-Modern Educators

Neil Postman, twentieth-century cultural analyst and educator, has defined for us the main problem resulting from modern educational techniques. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman lays out his operating premise in his introduction:
As [Orwell] saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. […] What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no one who wanted to read […] In 1984 […] people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.(1)
The Lord never leaves His people without a remnant, and many Christians are working to insure the Age of Typography is not destroyed by the Age of Show Business (Postman’s labels).

An older generation of prophets like Lewis, Sayers, and Wilder echoed Postman, but a new generation of authors like Wilson, Grant, and Leithart continue to sound warnings to Christendom while offering very practical solutions that can only be implemented through the hard work of dedicated families.

Today’s pastors are often frustrated at their congregants’ inability to read God’s Word let alone to study it seriously. But then they encourage families to patronize schools that have embraced the Age of Show Business rather than Word-driven education.

Postman asks a critical question. He says the following:
I have remained steadfast to his [Marshall McLuhan’s] teaching that the clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation. I might add that my interest in this point of view was first stirred by a prophet far more formidable then McLuhan, more ancient than Plato. In studying the Bible as a young man, I found intimations of the idea that forms of media favor particular kinds of content and therefore are capable of taking command of a culture. I refer specifically to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of anything. ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.’ I wondered then, as so many others have, as to why the God of these people would have included instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience. It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. We may hazard a guess that a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, iconographic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. […] People like ourselves who are in the process of converting their culture from word-centered to image-centered might profit by reflecting on this Mosaic injunction.(2)
Postman is asking us to reconsider viewing ‘screens’ as a form of education. He proposes that proficient literacy builds a stronger individual and develops a culture able to understand an abstract, triune God. Teaching a child to read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and think about God is a better use of a parent’s time than encouraging a child to watch the movie version.

The child who can’t read the book cannot read the Bible either and only has personal experience as a filter for his or her worldview instead of the wealth of knowledge developed through history and expressed in literature.

(1) Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin, 1985), vii-viii.
(2) Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 8-9.

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


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