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Teaching as a Subversive Activity

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  658 ratings  ·  55 reviews
A no-holds-barred assault on outdated teaching methods--with dramatic & practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today's world.
Crap detecting
The medium is the message, of course
The inquiry method
Pursuing relevance
What's worth knowing?
Meaning making
New teachers
City schools
New languages: the media-
Two alternatives
So what d
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 15th 1971 by Delta (first published January 1st 1969)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,876)
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Spencer B
This book was written primarily as a manifesto for inquiry based learning. It is reasonably convincing as such, but has a major flaw. While discussing the problems brought about by the educational bureaucracy he fails to even consider the schooling model most suited to an inquiry based learning environment, homeschooling. Not only are parents not included as potential teacher or implementers of his strategies he fails to consider them even as parents or the impact that parents have either as age ...more
Perhaps one of the most depressing aspects of Postman and Weingartner’s book (written some 45 years ago) is how much of it still applies. Many of the criticisms that he levels at schools of their day are at least as valid now, if not more so.
Some (extremely distilled) points:
- One of a school’s primary functions is to equip students with ‘crap detectors’ so that they may successfully spot time when people are attempting to manipulate them.
- School should be about ‘inquiry’ not about the transmis
I used the beginning of this book to help me write my Masters Thesis. It was extremely helpful and relevant to my topic and my role as a teacher in my own classroom. I felt after a while, Postman turned a bit too extreme for my taste. (Let me interject that I am a big Postman fan and have really enjoyed reading him throughout my grad classes.) Although I appreciated what he had to say, he was so radical he makes it hard not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It came to a point where he co
Emma Thompson
Probably the only useful thing that's come out of the university based portion of my teaching course so far. Postman advocates for large-scale change to the school system which would move the child back to the centre instead of the focus being on teaching. I can't say anything about anywhere else but I can see how elements of his ideas have been incorperated in the UK, with the idea of student-focused lessons and moving away from transmission-learning, but at the end of the day it's all the same ...more
This is one of the very best books on education I’ve ever read. Although published in 1969, I find myself wishing that everyone everywhere would pick it up and read it. Though it’s a bit long on references to Vietnam and rather out of date in some of its neuroscience (see Ch. 7: Languaging), it still has extremely important things to say to both teachers and students. (Sorry, administrators, you don’t even make the list, seeing as how you are unnecessary and in many cases counterproductive to th ...more
I pulled this book off my dad's shelves when I had dropped out of architecture school and was trying to figure out what to do with my life.

Twenty years later, let me tell you that this was a major turning point in my decision to become a teacher. It was also a philosophy that kept me bordering on mutiny most of my teaching career...

Every education student should read this book -- agree with it or not.

Thank you, Neil Postman!
John Lilly
May 16, 2009 John Lilly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to John by: Jared Kopf
This is an amazing book -- written in 1968 by always smart Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, it's ostensibly a book about education reform -- and it's a very good one to read about that. But it also reads like it could have been written in the last year or so, about what we're all experiencing with the incredible pace of change on the connected Internet. Postman's ability to see what the future had in store -- along with great minds like McLuhan -- is totally astounding. The first couple of ...more
Erik Graff
Jan 06, 2015 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teachers
Recommended to Erik by: a teacher
This was my favorite book for the Educational Psychology course taken at Grinnell College in Iowa during a brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a high school teacher (I had so loved so many of mine) should the Revolution be accomplished or delayed.

While I remember many of the readings for this course, I don't recall the name of its instructor. This is dismaying as he was, like the readings, memorable in many respects. While he looked straight and wasn't one of the younger instructors, the
It was disappointing to read that the ideas my teachers' college has been presenting as "new" teaching "reform" have been around since before I was born. Will new ideas in education always take 40 years to percolate?
The material is dated, but it is still forward thinking. I would say its pretty much the blue print for contemporary cutting edge thinking in 2012 - not bad considering Postman wrote this in 1968.
Boreal Elizabeth
Neil Postman is responsible for me dropping out of high school, pursuing teaching in college and dropping out of teaching after my student teaching.
Debbie Morrison
“Teaching as a Subversive Activity” puts forth ideas about education that are radical, controversial, bold and fresh. It suggests eliminating syllabi, formal curriculum and textbooks from education settings. It introduces ideas of student-centered learning over teacher-centered teaching, and leading students to learn by asking questions, not by teachers giving lectures. The book was first published in 1969—considered radical among educators then, and today.

Hands down it’s on of the most challeng
Guida Allès
Si tuviera que elegir qué libro me ha provocado más ganas de ser maestra, diría que ha sido éste que leí en castellano en los 80. Por la convicción en el poder de la educación para construir la identidad.

Resumen del libro en castellano elaborado por el profesor Mario Núñez Molina.

Estas sugerencias que hizo Neil Postman en su libro “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” van a cumplir unos 40 años pero de manera sorprendente tienen una gran vigencia p
Hans de Zwart
Anything with "subversive" in the title has my attention, especially if it relates to teaching.

Even though this book is more than 40 years old (1969) Postman and Weingartner are making an argument that is very similar to the argument that is being made today around the bankruptcy of an educational system that is based on the needs of an industrial society. They write that for the first time in history change has become so fast that we can't assume that what made sense to us, makes sense to our c
Very good book that teachers ought to read. Very stimulating, and though I disagree with some of its emphases and don't agree with everything it says, particularly on merely "survival" and on being critical of everything because you must be right and authority must be distrusted, I do see that it is a good balance, for many follow blindly a failing curriculum/education paradigm. But for those already hyper-critical of any kind of tradition, one should, naturally be critical of being critical.

Mar 30, 2009 LB rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to LB by: Chris
Shelves: education
While I read the intro and first chapter, I kept having the theme song from the TV show Two and a Half Men playing in my head. Man, men, men, men, Manly men men men... Yikes. This man, man, men, man, he, him, man, man, man in a chapter called Crap Detecting in a book that says, "Those who are sensitive to the verbally built-in biases of their 'natural' environment seem 'subversive' to those who are not." Maybe, before they trying to pick this particular speck out of the eyes of educators, they s ...more
Lisa Nimz
I tried reading this book about 10 years ago, got partway through and didn't finish. I started the book again during winter break. I got 2/3 of the way through and finally finished last night (couldn't sleep). So, I feel like it's a monumental accomplishment.

There are a lot of aspects of this book I don't like. It's very sexist, for one. Women and girls are almost completely excluded from their writing and that bothers me intensely. Also, the authors seem to desperately want to be cool which is
Wow! s an adult educator I can't believe I hadn't read this book until now. Pretty amazing that the roots of constructivist approaches to education are right here in this book that is over 45 years old.

It is the root of the inquiry approach to education so current and driving the approach to education in a technological age right now.

I was aware of Neil Postman way back in the day when I entered the adult literacy profession, but I was more focused on Paulo Freire in terms of reading and applyin
I approach this book not as an educator in the education system, but as a pastor in a local church. From this perspective, I was able to engage the ideas present in a way that doesn't threaten my current structures in quite the same way it would from an educator's perspective. I gave this 5 stars not because I think it's perfect, or even completely practical, but because I read it 46 years after it's publication and am floored at how insightful and at times prescient Postman and Weingartner are. ...more
Adria Tingey
Ok, this book should actually get like 3.5 stars but I like Neil Postman so I'm going to round up. "Conserving" was better, but there was some interesting stuff from the 60s reform movement about "relevance" etc. Sometimes I think the "inquiry method" would be hard to use to get anything done by the end of the day, but perhaps not after the first few weeks. I suppose the method I plan on using is more inquiry method than anything else, and I plan to use it to get a lot done, but his examples mak ...more
I originally read Teaching as a Subversive Activity when the book was fairly new and I was still in high school. It is a seminal work on the function of a teacher (as opposed to an indoctrinator). The most important thing that he says (appropriating a quote from Hemmingway about writers) is that the principal function of education is to give the student a shockproof crap detector.

Now you may see why I distinguished between teaching and indoctrination. The strongest movement today is to prevent s
The number one takeaway for me from this book: one of the most important things you as a teacher can help a person acquire is a bullshit detector.
I liked this book so much when I read it in high school that, when I was finished with it, I stuck my copy in the teachers' lounge.
So far it's been an incredible read by, Niel Postman. Written the year I was born and every words applicable today! Sadly he stated that much of what he wrote could have been applied to the 1930's. When can we stop this cyclical disease? By not allowing corrupt government dictate and create our world.
Something is truly problematic and dysfunctional if the structure and development of our public schooling system cannot and still does not allow for change. A system that does not allow or even enco
Another of the core books that led me from teaching to being, thankfully, a public librarian. If you haven't read Postman, well ... he served a cup of tea that I savored.

This book supplemented, circa my student teaching days, absorbing insider knowledge of how to survive in a high school, from an art teacher turned HS librarian. Recruit bright, eager students to run the library, work with teachers to find self motivated kids to serve behind the counter and in the stacks. Directed reading candida
I had hoped the book would live up to its title - I love the title! - but I found it mostly disappointing. There was so much snark directed against teachers that you'd think it had been written during present times. I can appreciate the motives behind writing the book, the objective of making school/learning more meaningful for students, and several of the ideas. Towards the end, I made connections to some reading other reading I've done (such as Socrates Cafe). I really wanted to like the book, ...more
Adam Bradley
The teaching methodology advocated by Postman comes across as unapologetically deconstructionist and post-modern; to borrow a meme from Chesterton, there are some ideas which lead to the destruction of thought, and the possibility of such an outcome seems largely unexamined here. Curious to read his "Teaching As A Conserving Activity" to compare and contrast.
Very good book on what learning is and therefore a major critique of our current system. If learning is about teaching critical thinking and the ability to ask good, relevent questions, then our current program fails utterly (the stars of our current program are the compliant, quiet, parrot back learners).

I plan on making notes on this and posting here later when I have time. I am reading these things to better understand how to teach my children.
I love this book as it describes where my thinking is right now about my educational philosophy. Even though it was written over 40 years ago, the complaints and solutions are still valid. Maybe because education has taken so many steps backwards, thanks to No Child Left Unpunished. I have been reborn with this book and any teacher worth their salt can read this and find some way to adjust their teaching to reach their students.
Just not the book for me, right now. I already know and work with the theory of inquiry based learning, so that part wasn't new to me. What was interesting is looking at a work that is 50 years old and knowing that we've been having the same conversation about education since the dawn of the modern age, if not longer.
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  • Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas
  • Deschooling Society
  • The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling
  • The Process of Education
  • The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think And How Schools Should Teach
  • Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success
  • The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future
  • What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies
  • How Children Fail
  • Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist
  • Experience and Education
  • Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing
  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
  • Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution
  • The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance
  • Education for Critical Consciousness (Impacts)
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
  • Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching
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 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 The Disappearance of Childhood Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future

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“Remember: in order for a perception to change one must be frustrated in one's actions or change one's purpose.” 10 likes
“There is no way to help a learner to be disciplined, active, and thoroughly engaged unless he perceives a problem to be a problem or whatever is to-be-learned as worth learning, and unless he plays an active role in determining the process of solution.” 3 likes
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