Am reading Neil Postman’s The End of Education. Was particularly struck by his separation of the engineering of learning from the metaphysics of learning. While the engineering of learning involves the how (the methods, techniques), the metaphysics of learning involves becoming a “different person because of something you have learned” (p. 3). The metaphysics of learning then acquires a narrative of its own.
Postman talks about gods we serve, not in the religious sense, but in the sense of images or figures that signify narratives. For example, the god of Economic Utility signifies a particular narrative – that “if you pay attention in school, and do your homework, and score well on tests, and behave yourself, you will be rewarded by a well-paying job when you are done” (p. 27). Or the god of Consumership (‘Whoever dies with the most toys, wins” (p. 33)) with the advertising on the television (and now also the social culture of the internet) becoming the biggest impact on young minds (italics: my addition). Or the god of Technology (p. 38) which we know takes on an almost all-pervasive function of a filter through which we view society and learning.
We have such gods emerging and fading out all the time. We now have the Facebook god and the Google god and the Microsoft god and the Web 2.0 /social networked learning god and the SCORM god and the WBT god and the Blended Learning god…
Postman contends that “the narratives that underlie our present conception of school do not serve us well” (p. 61) and goes only not only to present his gods but also ways to use them to provide a purpose (“end” (p. 63)) to schooling. I would generalize school to cover adult learning too in variety of contexts.
It’s wonderful reading so far. I was particularly struck by his point that “all gods are imperfect, even dangerous…a belief too strongly held, one that excludes the possibility of a tolerance for other gods, may result in psychopathic fanaticism.” (p. 11). He quotes Niels Bohr who said that “the opposite of a correct statement is an incorrect statement. But the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth”. We must have tolerance to accept sometimes contradictory narratives.