Postman’s Thoughts Looked at Through an Optimistic View

In the first chapter of his book, Technopoly, Postman brings up several interesting points. Although he provides well thought out arguments for these, his arguments seem very one sided. As he quotes famous philosophers such as Plato, who often looked at both sides, he should also consider this. Although by his lack of doing so, maybe he is unwittingly proving Thamus’ point, that the written word is ruining true understanding, and rather just a misconstrued notion of knowledge.

Postman began this chapter with the story of Thamus, and bringing forth the point that it is important to consider both the pros and cons with regard to technology and its impact on society. Postman self-admittedly is a pessimist when it comes to technology, and continually points out how certain technologies are negatively impacting various environments which originally thought them to be benefits. However, I feel as though although technology does not always play out the way we would like it to, or expect it to, that these can still be seen as positive outcomes.

There is discussion about how new technology is an ecological force that changes the environment it is in. With new technology comes new words, and new meanings to current words. It would be wrong of us to only see this in its negative context. Ideas are constantly evolving, and this is not a bad thing. The evolution of ideas and knowledge allows us to better understand the world around us. For instance, there was once a time where the Earth was thought to be flat. It was as science and technology evolved that we were able to discover that the world was indeed round. I do not believe that this changed idea is bad, but rather that it is allowing us new, more accurate knowledge.

This ties into one of the points that I think Postman is way off the mark. He discusses that the advancements of technology (specifically television and the personal computer) will make teachers and their profession obsolete. He discusses that television is creating a new type of learner, who will not be seen as successful in today’s school system. Also, with these new technologies, teachers, whom he says jobs occurred because of the printing press, will be out of a job due to these new technologies stepping in and giving people a false sense of knowledge.

Although there is some merit it what he says, there has also been a lot of adaptation over the last several years in the education system. Technology is changing the landscape that we teach in, however, teachers as role models learn to adapt to this change and advocate the use of technology in the society. Rather than get rid of the teaching profession, it has given teachers a chance to improve their knowledge with technology to enable us to be “winners” rather than “losers”.

Technology is increasing at a rapid rate, where there is always new skills to learn. Teachers work hard to stay up to date on technology to provide our students with opportunities to learn the skills they will need to be successful out in the workplace. There are courses that are based on technology, and technology implementation into other courses is written into the curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2006).

Understanding the technology and how to use it is a skill that teachers have that they are passing onto their students. Rather than get rid of the teaching profession, technology has created more teaching jobs with regards to teaching how to use the different technologies. The real wisdom of how to use something, rather than just the idea that they are knowledgeable, is coming from the teachers, and is being shared with the students.

The other argument that Postman made with regard to the education system was that students would be seen as unsuccessful due to the fact that they would be more accustomed to the television, rather than text, which is mostly used in schools. This has been dealt with by school systems with a push to differentiated instruction and assessment, as well as scaffolding. The fact that students learn in various ways has become increasingly apparent to teachers over the past several years. Although that may be due in part to technology decreasing students’ attention span, and changing how their minds absorb information, the fact remains that these students are now learning in a different way.

Postman takes the negative viewpoint, that technology is to blame and that they will be seen as unsuccessful in school. However, really the technology is what allows us to change our teaching practice and reach every student. Students are achieving greater levels of success as teachers expand their teaching practice, and use technology to engage students in the learning. Technology may have created a different type of learner, but differentiated instruction allows teachers to motivate unengaged students (Jarvis, 2006), and this can easily be done through using technology.

One of the most important skills for individuals to be learning today is critical thinking skills, as many of the jobs that students will have, are not even created yet (Larson and Miller, 2011). By understanding how to use the technology to solve different problems, it may not seem that they have specific knowledge in an area, but they are adapting a far more important skill. They are learning how to problem solve. It is not possible to train students to solve problems that we do not even know exist yet. So perhaps, this mastery of knowledge that Postman discusses so readily, is not even the issue. We need forward thinkers to adapt to the changing environment, although he would argue, without new technology, we would not need this new knowledge.

Change is one of the most feared issues, but I do not think that we need to be as scared of technology as Postman suggests. Technology is improving the world around us, but like most things, improvements do not come without a few side effects. I find that for the most part, the good outweighs the bad, and although both should be considered, it is hard to turn down possible advancements, because until we do let it play out, there is no way for us to know the potential good that may come from it.

Jarvis, D. H. (2006). The impotence of being Ernest: Deskside reflections of a mathematics student at risk. Ontario Mathematics Gazette, 44(3), 30-35.

Larson, Lotta and Miller, Teresa (2011). 21st Century Skills: Prepare Students for The Future. Kappa Delta Pi Record; Spring; 47 (3), 121-123.

Ministry of Education (2006). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 and 10: Business Studies, 2006 (revised). Available online: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/business910currb.pdf

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly. New York: Vintage Books.

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