The Disappearance of Childhood
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The Disappearance of Childhood

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  672 ratings  ·  71 reviews
From the vogue for nubile models to the explosion in the juvenile crime rate, this modern classic of social history and media traces the precipitous decline of childhood in America today−and the corresponding threat to the notion of adulthood.

Deftly marshaling a vast array of historical and demographic research, Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, suggests that childhood i...more
ebook, 192 pages
Published June 8th 2011 by Vintage (first published April 1st 1984)
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booklady
I like Postman. I think I've read most of his books. I’ve learned that I frequently agree with what he writes. He is a critic and has won the National Council of Teachers of English George Orwell Award for Clarity in Language (1986). Okay, I know, awards don't always signify, but in this case, I have no doubt he earned it. He writes with a clarity and conciseness I struggle not to envy.

The theme of The Disappearance of Childhood is that our culture is hostile to childhood. I think Postman make...more
Katie
Interesting, and not terribly encouraging. I wish there were a 21st-century update. Writing in the early 80's (updated in 1993), Postman observes that children are being treated like little adults, and adults are beginning to act like children. Pubescent girls are held up as sex symbols in advertising; children's games (hide and seek, hopscotch) are disappearing and being replaced by professionally organized sports leagues; grownups wear jeans and sneakers to the office and pepper their speech w...more
Kate
A blog I frequently read on the intersection of faith and technology has made mention several times of Neil Postman, and I finally decided to check out one of his books. The thread running through most of his commentary is that technology is a Faustian bargain: it adds something to our lives, but always comes at a price. Sometimes that bargain is apparent from the outset, but most frequently the trade-off only becomes known years or generations later, and usually in ways the inventors never expe...more
Al
I rediscovered and reread this little gem of a book in going through my shelves attempting to bring some order to them. I read it when it was originally published in 1982, at a time when our three children were respectively 12, 8 and 4, and its message seemed especially important and relevant. Mr. Postman advances the idea that the existence of a true childhood was not possible in medieval times and before, and only became possible and important with the invention of the printing press and the...more
Tom
Fascinating book making the claim that the distinction between child and adult has largely disappeared in our world of new media. Postman wrote this a generation ago of the emerging dominance of television and one wonders what he would make of today's internet and social media.

The cultural concept of childhood is, according to Postman, a consequence of literacy. Print media created a world of knowledge and communication acquired through education. Over time certain topics, language, and themes...more
J.
I gave this book 4 stars because even though I disagree with how Mr. Postman came to many of his viewpoints, I agree with many of his conclusions. His position on how the media of today has destroyed the family and childhood was fascinating.
Lumumba Shakur
Postman's basic premise is that television has so radically altered Western society that it is eroding childhood as a social construction as it had been conceived since Enlightenment. His premise is heavily Eurocentric, but nonetheless has a great deal of merit. However, I believe that in 2013, history has demonstrated that huge parallel proposition of his theory has perhaps become even more manifest with very few people seeing it as concerning. Adulthood has been so thoroughly infantalized thro...more
Andrew
In 1982's The Disappearance of Childhood, Postman argues that what we define as "childhood" is a modern phenomenon. He defines "childhood" as the period from around age 7 – when spoken language is usually mastered – to around age 17 – when written language is mastered. Not coincidentally, these ages correspond to the typical school years.

The word "child" originally meant "son or daughter"; only in modern times did it gain its second meaning - "a person between birth and full growth". Prior to mo...more
Kerith
Of all the books by Postman that I've read this one is the grimmest. Probably because he combines most of his pet issues (TV, technology, education, etc) into the one big cause of this book's problem. I still agree with many of his points, but I could not completely swallow his fear that childhood is disappearing.
I agree that the media is a danger to children (especially girls) -- in their literacy, self-image, and position in the world -- and must be managed. Technology's latest, the internet,...more
Josh
Somewhat dated - it was written in the very early 80's and revisited in the early 90's - this book none-the-less tells the simple tale of both the rise of the Western concept of Childhood (and by consequence, the concept of adulthood too) with the emergence of modern communication technology; in the first instance, the printing press.

The irony presented is that as we grew in terms of a rational, pluralistic and individualistic society, we created - but now risk rapidly abandoning - the period of...more
Ashley Capes
When last I read The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, I was fascinated. It's such an interesting look at the institution of childhood and how it was formed, and further, how modern media is eroding it, that I nearly read the book again on the spot.


I found myself nodding along as I worked through it, reading passages aloud to my wife. As a teacher, having some first hand understanding of the rapidly narrowing gap between adult and child, reading the book was an enlightening and worthwh

...more
Stephen
Television is killing your children -- conceptually. In 1985, Neil Postman penned Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he, building off of the lesson in Technopoly that technology changes our culture without our knowledge, examined television’s malevolent effects on political, civic, and religious discourse. The Disappearance of Childhood, published in 1982, is an earlier form of this argument, and one which focuses only on the effects of television on childhood. In it, he asserts that childhood...more
James
Postman states that this is his favorite book that he has authored and I can see why. I would have liked to give it 4.5 stars simply because of some of his humanistic statements toward the end. His points are spectacular and very thought provoking.

The book illuminates issues that the general population has forgotten but does not bring forth any suggestions for change. Postman states this in the preface but concedes that he doesn't know how to fix the problem. He has some negative things to say...more
Lisbeth
Rereading the Wikipedia page to refresh myself, I did read this. My thought with many years since the reading is that if childhood has ended, so has adulthood. I find that premise to be true in the internet age; how do you keep a child from knowledge, or control the access to that knowledge in the time of the internet? You cannot.
Stacy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adria Tingey
Not my favorite Neil Postman, but still so many, many things to think about. I agree with his major premises but I think that a more accurate description of what is going on in the US today would be called "The Disappearance of Adulthood." He does go over this idea too, and I agree with what he says. In my recent research on education, I have searched for the author who would say "home-school is not the true way," so that I could claim I had read both sides. I think I have found my man. He being...more
Theoxeny
As much as Amusing Ourselves to Death documents the decay of American culture in general, so The Disappearance of Childhood records and explicates the corrosive effects of electronic media on the well-being of children. From the rise of crimes committed by (and on) children to increasing childhood illiteracy, from the disappearance of social and psychological differences between adults and children to the dissolution of the family and the appearance in the media of children as sexual objects, th...more
Alicia Fox
Easily one of the best books I've read this year. It's hard to believe I took so long to get around to reading it. Extremely well written, with powerful arguments. Highly recommended to everyone.
Elizabeth
Aug 17, 2008 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: child psychologists, teachers, parents, conservitism is a plus
Shelves: my-books-read
Although I don't agree with EVERYTHING that was written (because I do seem to lean more towards the "liberal" side of things), I still give this book four stars, because of the way it was written. This book does raise some thought, and gives very interesting historical and psychological facts. The author did repeat himself, quite a few times, regarding the television, which did get "old" at times. I'm very glad I picked this one up, because I have learned a lot and my mind has been opened even m...more
Theryn Fleming
In TDoC, Postman posits that childhood (which he defines as age 7-17; under 7 = infants) is a social artifact, not a biological category (I think this is a stretch). Anyway, his point is that prior to widespread literacy, there were no "children" per se because it was impossible to keep adult activities apart from youth. The introduction of print created a secret world that youth ("children") had to earn a right to be a part of by learning to read. Because electronic media don't have the same le...more
Maggie
this was an book with interesting ideas that stimulated my thinking and sharpened my observation on current cultural events and whereas i cannot accept in a blanket way either his thesis or the evidence he presents for it nor can i disregard the ideas that he presents. my awareness of what i am seeing and how to understand what might be going on has been seriously sharpened by reading this book. well worth our time in order to clarify what it is we think we are seeing when we look upon the drama...more
Giancarlo Montemayor
A fascinating historical and sociological essay on the invention and disappearance of childhood. According to Postman, childhood was forgotten in the Middle Ages when the Barbarians defeated the Roman System of Education (books and schools). The idea of childhood was discovered once again when the printing press came about and thus children had to achieve the secret code of reading to become adults. Now, with technology replacing literature, we are living the new Middle Ages.

Read it!

Gian
Devon
Postman traces the concept of childhood over time and explains its emergence and re-emergence as it correlates with the printing press, mass media, and time. The most poignant for me was the idea of the "adult child" that is so prevalent these days - think Joey Tribbiani from friends. It seems "childhood" as a construct is as vulnerable as other social institutions, but I couldn't help feeling like the book could have done a better job of explaining why we need to protect it.
Jasonlylescampbell
Not sure if I believe the major premise (which is that childhood is linked to literacy, schooling and shame and so it was lost after the sack of Rome and wasn't regained until the printing press and is now being lost again). But, I think he points out tons to think about and asks incredibly relevant questions and that he is right that childhood is rapidly disappearing. His critique of TV, especially TV news is full of these kind of good questions.
John Rachel
Fascinating history of 'childhood'. I had no idea it was such a modern invention. So now we can all be pedophiles and feel good about it. There's a strong tradition for all sorts of abuse and negligence when it comes to the little folks. So be it. Saves putting them on child rearing farms and in toddler indoctrination camps. Much better for GDP to rent them to China to make circuit boards and counterfeit name brand underwear.
Brett
It was a good book, more from a historical perspective than from a theoretical perspective. Gives a good overview of how the dissemination of printed and then electronic information coincided with the rise and now decline of what we traditionally view as "childhood." In my opinion it discounts too many other variables but still it makes a pretty convincing argument. I didn't enjoy it as much as Amusing ourselves to Death.
Jonathan
The first half of this book is a terrific rundown of the history of the development of the concept of childhood, and, as Postman's argument goes, the decline of that concept in the last century. The second half is Postman continuing his argument and coming off as a huge curmudgeon. I mean, he says that the character of Felix Unger is the best example of an adult on television at the time of writing. 'Nuff said.
Lisa
I read it awhile ago- (a couple of years before I became a parent, actually, but being a teacher, I was still very interested in this type of book)- I recall being in agreement with the author's premise that children being exposed to so many things visually, before they can understand them intellectually, is most definitely not good for them individually or for society. I would recommend this book.
Gordon
Really a wonderful book. It, as usual adds information I never thought about (the living conditions of the Middle Ages and the assertion that childhood did not exist in that oral age) while going toward the birth, uneasy growth and death spiral of childhood in our modern age. This book is by a master, now regretfully gone, who thought about his age and about education. I can't put it down.
Shayne
Parenthood-changing: this gave me a better and clearer idea of what it means to have a childhood, and the determination to ensure that my children have a decent crack at it.

Interesting note: much of the subject matter and discussion of technology coincides with Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which I happened to be reading around the same time.
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41963
Neil Postman, an important American educator, media theorist and cultural critic was probably best known for his popular 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For more than four decades he was associated with New York University, where he created and led the Media Ecology program.

He is the author of more than thirty significant books on education, media criticism, and cultural change including Te...more
More about Neil Postman...
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School Teaching as a Subversive Activity Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future

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“In saying no one knew about the ideas implicit in the telegraph, I am not quite accurate. Thoreau knew. Or so one may surmise. It is alleged that upon being told that through the telegraph a man in Maine could instantly send a message to a man in Texas, Thoreau asked, "But what do they have to say to each other?" In asking this question, to which no serious interest was paid, Thoreau was directing attention to the psychological and social meaning of the telegraph, and in particular to its capacity to change the character of information -- from the personal and regional to the impersonal and global.” 1 likes
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