Neil Postman’s article “Television as Teacher” explores how television is being more frequently used to teach children in the United States. Postman emphasizes that television should not be considered an educational tool. Throughout the article he explains that people, specifically children, absorb nothing from educational televised programs except for the understanding that learning ought to take place in the form of entertainment and that from this notion children will come to believe that everything (politics, religion, news, and commerce) must be presented to them in a dramatized, entertaining way. Postman questions the effectiveness of television shows such as Sesame Street, studies the motives of educational television, and analyzes “New Education” which entails the use of a multimedia schooling curriculum.
Neil Postman was a well known scholar, avid critic of society’s popular culture and proponent of studying and critiquing the fundamental elements of teaching. With a doctorate in education, Postman spent the bulk of his professional life “reimagining” the schooling curriculum to “foster more independent, critical thinking” (Greene 421). Postman studied at Columbia University where he earned his M.A. and Ed.D. His central interests of study were media and education. With these interests and his highly accredited knowledge base he wrote and co-wrote a total of seventeen books; one of them being Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, 1985, which is where this article was taken from. Neil Postman was more than qualified spokesman for the topic at hand. His extensive knowledge and dedication to the reformation of the education program has prompted him to write this article and express his views of how education through entertainment is doing nothing more than damaging the learning capabilities of those being educated in the setting of today’s society. Postman is undeniably knowledgeable about the content within his article but he never speaks of the credibility of his writing. However, through his prose it is easy to identify his vast understanding of the subject. Postman claims that the reasons for his writing on this particular subject relates specifically to the increasing role that television is playing in the classroom, along with other various form of media. Although Postman’s article was written nearly thirty years ago, the content within the article is still very much applicable to the situations faced at present.
Postman’s article is an analytical critique of the education system and their use of television as an academic tool. Through his writing he wishes to aid the reader in identifying the flawed assumption that television is an acceptable means for children to be taught with. He makes statements such as, “television has by its power to control the time, attention, and cognitive habits of our youth gained the power to control their education” (Postman 423). Postman attempts to dissuade readers from believing that television can aid an educator in teaching students anything from reading and counting to more complex concepts such as historical happenings and scientific reasoning. In the article, Postman used an example of “New Education” to express to his readers the growing use of media to educate students. The Voyage of Mimi;a math and science based project that incorporates television, illustrative books, and computer games into a single assignment is Postman way of casting disgust at this new form of teaching. This project was created and used by some of the most “prestigious institutions in the field of education.” It was constructed with a grant of “$3.65 million” from the Department of Education. (425) Postman forebodes that the future of education will now become much more costly and much less fulfilling with the integration of multimedia into curriculum. He exudes dissatisfaction with this predicament by lashing out at not television studios but instead those who believe that it is a good idea to institutionalize on televised teaching.
Postman puts the blame into the hands of the parents and the educators who advocate children learning through educational television shows. Postman claims that television shows that attempt to educate their viewers fail to do so. His main example of this is the program Sesame Street he explains that children love Sesame Street not because they are learning new material but instead because the program is nothing more than a series of entertaining commercials and children love commercials. (421) He goes on to explain that parents praise these shows because they can now set their child in front of a television set and believe their children are getting an education. It also relieves the guilt a parent may have for allowing their child to watch endless hours of television. (422) Postman is trying to deter parents from believing that television can be a substitute from a classroom lesson taught by a teacher. Postman also goes on to explain that educators have now come to consider these shows as “an imaginative aid in solving the growing problem of teaching Americans how to read.” (422) in reality, he is uncovering the fact that these shows are not aiding education but instead damaging the foundation of the schooling curriculum. The article states that “As a television show, and a good one, Sesame Street does not encourage children to love school or anything about school. It encourages them to love television.” (423) Postman shares his fears that children will become dependent on having their education displayed to them in an entertaining and theatrical way as it is on television. Through his argument Postman is defending his views of the traditional, media free education system.
Postman’s article is meant specifically to be read by an audience of parents and educators alike; his criticism and forewarning act as a way to reach out emotional appeal to make his readers to feel some sort of concern for their children’s well-being. Postman’s voice is personable and relatable as he uses phrases such as “We face the rapid dissolution of the assumption of an education organization around the slow-moving printed word, and the equally rapid emergence of a new education based on the speed-of-light electronic image.” (423) Postman’s use of the word “we” and “us” makes this article easy to relate to and gives the audience a sense that everybody shares the same problem; television does not help students learn, it only makes students like television more and makes them lose interest in classroom setting education.
Postman believes that there should be a visible separation between the entertainment purposes of television and the educational purposes of school. Throughout his article he makes assertions that lead to this main idea. Postman claims that students do not receive an equivalent educational experience from a television program as they do in a classroom. He points out that these television shows undermine “what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” Students begin to lose a lot of the personal development that goes along with the learning process. Students lose the ability to ask questions and share their ideas, they lose the very basic social interaction that schooling allows for, and students are not able to observe certain things such as the “rules of public decorum” and “development of language” (422) Postman’s intention for this article was to make people stop and think about the damage television and media are doing to schools and possibly cause some to act upon their reactions. Postman seemed to be somewhat successful in his actions of writing this essay and his intentions of explaining the dangers of television to the school curriculum. His words have been read for the past thirty years and continue to be read and passed along. Although there has been no noticeable action taken and media continues to overwhelm all children’s education, Postman’s words have been recognized with careful consideration.
Postman would most likely be disappointed with the results of how children across America are taught today and would urge for a change to the way students are taught. Postman points out that television and other forms of media do not help students learn; they only make students like television more and make them lose interest in classroom setting education. At the end of his article Postman concludes that there should be a visible separation between the entertainment purposes of television and the educational purposes of school.
Postman, Neil. "Television as Teacher." From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader. (2012): 421-430. Print.
Stuart Greene. From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader. (2012): 421. Print.