There should lay a problem to which a book or a writing is a solution for. No one can deny on the fact that as long as education is dealing with human beings there will be problems, in a way I sometimes define educators as problem solvers, as they are constantly dealing with problems within the bounds of school buildings. The End of Education by Neil Postman explores the ‘school problem’ that he sees exists in our modern education systems.
The End of Education might stand to answer some questions of the school problems as Postman sees them as two dimensional. One is the engineering side of it, that is the means by which young people acquire an education. The other one is the metaphysical that is the underlying purpose or mission or the end of education. Postman believes that primary focus is mostly on the engineering aspect of the education today, while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. He says “without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better.” (p – x-xi).
To give that meaning and reason to education is the answer to the why rather than the what and the how in the process, and that is because he thinks if the teachers, parents and the children do not have a purpose, if they do not believe in anything or they do not have a god to serve, then the schools become houses of detention rather that attention. So it is significant to have a shared or common narrative that we can live by, because “public education” Postman says “depends absolutely on the existence of shared narratives and the exclusion of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness” (p- 17) he continues to say “What makes public schools public, is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods” as “public education does not serve a public. It create a public” and this is solely inspired by a reason, a shared narrative that all are in service to. I think this idea interests E.D Hirsch a lot as he too claims for a culturally literate community through having students focused on their own culture, yet that of Postman is not specified as he claims for an education with purpose, a purpose that is meaningful and future promising for the human being.
The “End” could have two meanings according to the context of this book, one which literally leads to an end, a point of no return and the other is the purpose and the meaning for whatever we do in this worldly life, but for what Postman is talking about a purpose or a meaning for education. He says that either meaning could apply for the future of schooling. As he claims that education is absent and that is the reason for him to write the book, he states “I return to the subject [of education] now, not because the education world has suffered from my absence, but because I have [suffered from the absence of education]” (p – ix). For him education or more specifically schooling is about making a life not making a living.
Postman throughout the book describes some current gods that are being served as false gods. The god of economic utility, technology, consumerism, and multiculturalism, he says that these god are not capable of providing a well off education and maintaining a life worth living. The stories of those gods are pointless and the future with worshipping those is not promising. In serving those false gods the chance of a better life is scarce as the knowledge of life is imparted and the purposes are timely or in another word mortal. While the educators are master minds of it, they are not as those in past because he says “There was a time when educators became famous for providing reasons for learning; now they become famous for inventing a method” (p- 26) and this an attempt to impart knowledge or reason as the school can not resist without a reason for its being.
As an alternative to those currently false gods being served in our education system, he presents some narratives that he thinks they could serve us better. “Spaceship Earth” (that humans are responsible for and stewards of the planet); “The American Experiment” (the story of America as a great experiment and as a center of continuous argument); “The Fallen Angel” (history and the advancement of knowledge as a series of making mistake and correction); “The Laws of Diversity” (difference contributes to increased vitality and excellence, and, ultimately, to a sense of unity); and “The Word Weavers/The World Makers” (the understanding that the world is created through language, through definitions, questions, and metaphors).
The overall intention of his in this is to stress on the promotion of the purpose for what we do in education instead of the engineering aspects of it like the assessment, evaluation, curriculum, management and all the other engineering issues, but rather to focus more on the metaphysical one. As for him the why question, the reason for what we live for makes it easier for us how to live. As Friedrich Nietzsche remarks “he who has a why can bear with almost any how”. What his means is, if we know for what we are schooling our kids, the methodology of how to do that will be much easier and the dimension get to change. teachers know why do they teach, principal realize their role in designing the school generation, parents are able to see what they are dreaming of and the kids themselves are better in understanding their role for society and the humanity in general.
This does not mean that teachers, parents, and kids should think of one think or believe in the same thing. In those school back there In the Western world, beginning in the thirteenth century and for five hundred years afterward, this why question, the reason, was sufficient justification for the founding of institutions of learning. Even today, there are some schools in the West, and most in the Islamic world, whose central purpose is to serve and celebrate the glory of God, to serve one purpose and this eliminates the school problems and crisis. There may be some disputes over what subjects best promote piety, obedience, and faith; there may be students who are skeptical, even teachers who are nonbelievers. But at the core of such schools, there is a transcendent, spiritual idea that gives purpose and clarity to learning. Even the skeptics and nonbelievers know why they are there, what they are supposed to be learning, and why they are resistant to it (p- 4).
This central purpose is not of worldly or insufficient one, but rather a purpose that elevates the centrality of why do we live? Where will we go? When those purposes and meanings may not be found by the students themselves, that is why we have teachers. This contrasts with some of the negative understandings of democracy in education today, for the reason that kids are able to control and determine their own future. This means that students are born with the answers to the mind-shaking questions of life and the world, while it is clear that it is not like that. If they know the answer then what is the philosophy of having education anyway? There is a school called The Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts claiming to have a democratic view of education where children are free to do or choose anything they want in the school period, there were students playing cards and some others playing music while the visits to the library and reading was very seldom. The reporter asked one of the students what are going to do today? The kid replied an I don’t know answer. All of this is because the twenty first century kids are capable of controlling their destiny and their future as one of the staff members stated. How a kid is able to choose his/her own destiny when he/she does not know what he/she will do or learn in the rest of the day at school? Now, this idea may be able to find a room in Postman’s book, as to him I find it, this one also is a false god to be served or in another word this is not a god to be served.
Finally, the implications of those narratives in the schools may be hard for the education system to digest but I am content that having a core value, or a central purpose to which all live by and strive to achieve it is indispensable. We all know that it is only education which is that starting and turning point of individuals in the face of this earth, but when this education is lead to triviality results in human’s self-distraction. The word education is always a positive word but when it comes to schooling, changes. That is I think is because of difference and diversity. So, when we embrace each other to live to a core end of our lives we shall not have a bad end, but a happy one.
Postman, N. (1995). The End Of Education: Redefining the Value Of School. New York: Knopf.
Sudbury Valley School, YouTube video: taken from http://youtu.be/awOAmTaZ4XI
The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School by Neil Postman
A reading Response by: Pashew M. Nuri, http://pashewmajeed.blogspot.com/