Technology: Postman vs. a ‘Winner’

In “The Judgement of Thamus” from the book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman presents a critical view of technological changes and advances. One area that he discusses is the many of the costs or problems that technological advances have caused to schooling. The focus of this commentary is to critique this view of technology use in schools presented by the author.

Postman (1992) writes that “The schools teach their children to operate computerized systems instead of teaching things that are more valuable to children.” (p.13) Teaching students how to use computer technology is extremely valuable to students in the 21st century now and for their future. Students learning with and through technology are able to communicate and collaborate with peers in other classrooms and schools globally. Computer technology provides students with tools to demonstrate their learning in a way that is meaningful to them and that best meets their learning needs and styles. Those with learning difficulties and challenges are able to participate in the classroom because of the many technological advances that exist, from specialized devices that help students to hear to iPads that will read a text or type what is spoken.  Technology also affords students an authentic learning opportunity, where they are able to use the tools of their everyday world in the classroom. Such tools and the skills students acquire by using them will be immensely valuable in the future as they enter the workforce.

Postman also puts forward the notion that the introduction of computers to the classroom will change the current balance of orality and literacy that exists.  Learning he believes, will become more solitary and less communal. (Postman, 1992) Yet despite all the technology that is present in the classroom, there is still a strong place for orality.  Oral language activities continue to have a place in the classroom, with students telling stories and recounting exciting news in their lives. Classroom discussions, peer collaboration on work assignments, speeches, presentations, and drama are all present in today’s classrooms. All of the things that bring together the classroom in a community have not been lost.  Such balance still exists in the classroom.

In his discussion of the television, Postman (1992) outlines how students have been conditioned by its immediate gratification. He writes that television has produced children who, cannot or will not learn, cannot organize thoughts into writing or listen longer than a few minutes. The same can be said now with influx of computers, smartphones, and tablets in society. I know this has been the topic of conversation on many occasions in my staffroom and I am confident mine is not the only one.  I believe that what Postman has noted is the result of a teaching style that does not acknowledge the changes in students and continues to teach from a traditional teacher centered perspective. Prensky (2001) states that students today are “digital natives” and we, the teachers, are “digital immigrants”. He goes on to say that we are teaching in a way that does not match the world of our students. Thus we need to alter the way we teach to match the world of our learners with such technological devices playing a role in students’ learning.

According to Postman (1992), technological change is ecological. “One significant change generates total change…A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything.” (p.23) Our views on school and schooling must thus be re-evaluated and altered because of the technological changes and prominent role that technology plays in our students lives. Classrooms and in fact the education system is currently experiencing many changes. Teachers are changing the way they teach, from the old, traditional teacher -centered model to one which is student-centered and constructivist. They are incorporating authentic activities, using the technologies they have at their disposal, and creating blended learning environments and flipped classrooms.

Perhaps I am one of the ‘winners’ that Postman (1992) describes who enthusiastically praises the benefits of computers and technological change, and exalts  how life is better, more efficient and organized because of them, and ignores the costs. I would call myself a realist. I acknowledge that there are costs to technological changes, for example we no longer commit things to memory, but instead ‘google’ the answer. Yet, as a teacher in the 21st century, I cannot sit with my head in the sand and ignore the changes around me by teaching in a traditional manner. I need to acknowledge the changes brought on by technology and incorporate them in to my teaching so that I can best equip my students on how to use technology in a respectful and responsible way so that they can be productive and responsible global citizens in the 21st century. Technology engages students in learning, helps to support their academic achievement, opens their minds to the world around them, allows them to demonstrate their learning and creativity, and supports collaboration with others.  It is has a place in the classroom. It is valuable and deserves my support.

References

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage Books.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6

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2 Responses to Technology: Postman vs. a ‘Winner’

  1. I loved your perspective and I believe it is complementary to mine. You focused on how teachers are adapting to the changes of technology, while I focused on how technology is changing the role of teachers. We both did not share Postman´s view that technology will eliminate the need for teachers!

  2. Kim Wagner says:

    In the last few years, I have been focused on effectively incorporating technology in the classroom. Recently, I have been reflecting on whether the balance has been tipped away from meaningful face-to-face activities. I agree with you that oral classroom activities are valuable.

    You referenced the Prensky article about Digital Natives/Immigrants. I don’t agree with his premise which I think is stereotypical to label the young and ‘old’ in this way because I have seen a great variety of computer skills across generations. Some young people greatly dislike using computers, and many older teachers are avid in learning about new technologies. I do agree with your point though that we need to change our teaching methods to reflect the needs of our students in our modern society.

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