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Teaching as a Subversive Activity

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,108 ratings  ·  83 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A no-holds-barred assault on outdated teaching methods--with dramatic & practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today's world.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 do yo
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 15th 1971 by Delta (first published January 1st 1969)
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Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In a sense this book is getting quite old – you know, late 1960s and all that. And so many of the examples given are from people you may never have heard of or to events like the Vietnam War which are not quite as eternally present now as they were then. For example, at least three times ‘future shock’ is mentioned as having just entered the vernacular, which is used to explain how the concept has become basically a universal concern, but if anything this proved to be a kind of revolving door – ...more
Mark Osborne
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: education
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
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Spencer B
Nov 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, favorites
A must-read for anyone with interest in a new vision for education. Although written nearly 50 years ago, the vast majority of this text is still vital to our visioning––perhaps even more so. Postman and Weingartner address education both philosophically and practically, with suggestions for how we might immediately change our approach to education as well as long-term questions to consider in the way we imagine learning.

Sadly, unlike anything I had to read in my teacher education program, but w
Mar 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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!
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Some things I disagree with, but in many other ways it's incisive and illuminating, real shit
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's utterly distressing how relevant this book remains 49 years after it was published. Learning isn't about preparing for trivial standardized tests or trying to win your teacher's approval - it's about learning to question and learn from the world around you. My dad always gave me one piece of advice when going to school - "Ask hard questions." We're still in a place where students aren't always encouraged to do that.
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Soooooo gooood. All educators should read this.
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars
Read this for one of my classes but was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s a super dense read, jam-packed with information but it’s all interesting.
John Lilly
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Linda DeYounge
Jun 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Linda by: Katy
Shelves: pedagogy
A must-read for every pre-service and current teacher! I cannot sing the praises of this book long and loud enough. Not only does it focus education back on the student asking questions, creating curriculum, demanding relevance in their education, it also forces teachers to ask the same tough questions of the current systems.

This book will not ask you to think within the system. It will push you to question everything you know about education and what its purpose is. It will force you to confron
Erik Graff
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Apr 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit, nonfiction
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?
Boreal Elizabeth
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Neil Postman is responsible for me dropping out of high school, pursuing teaching in college and dropping out of teaching after my student teaching.
Dec 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Joel Sanford
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Overall, I found Teaching as a Subversive Activity to be engaging, insightful, and entertaining. The central arguments are clearly stated within the first three chapters, and the authors provide numerous examples and illustrations to reinforce them throughout the rest of the book. These arguments are certainly bold, and the writing style matches this boldness, to the point of being deliberately provocative at times – especially, I imagine, for readers with a strong commitment to traditional form ...more
Barry Kenna
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read Postman's account of TVs affect on American culture, politics and education 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' and was impressed with how clear and incisive his writing is. As result of that, I decided to buy this book and I wasn't disappointed. Most of Postman's work 'posts' (cause he's a postman after all) more questions than it answers but this book can be seen as a call to arms for teachers. It promotes a disregard for old stale teaching methods and calls for a focus on how people learn; in ...more
Thom Gething
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
"This book was written because we are serious, dedicated, professional educators, which means we are simple, romantic men who risk contributing to the mental-health problem by maintaining a belief in the improvability of the human condition through education."

Postman and Weingartner set out their stall with this opening statement, which illustrates both the strengths of the book, including a constant thread of humour. Written nearly 50 years ago, this book burns brightly in the first half as the
Jeff Wong
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As I am fully immersed in attempting to deliver an Inquiry-based education for my students, I went back to read this seminal tome on this topic. It certainly delivers! Published in 1969, the authors write in what must have been a sacrilegious fashion to the educators of the day as so very much of those points attack the present dogma in the educational field in which I am in. The pithy challenge to teachers comes in the "So What Do You Do Now" chapter XII ---- What am I going to have my students ...more
Justin Martin
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Astounding, no-bullshit argument about the dynamic wonderment of the student compared to the capitalist, abusive lurch of a dying school system. It dares to ask what - and who - we say school is for, and whether we back that up with an environment that feeds them rather than crushing them as we teach them to be rote mimics. I sorely wish Postman was still alive. The whole book is the obvious, stated with the force of the strange and divine.
Actual rating 3.5 out of 5. It's not a full 4 simply as a matter of personal enjoyability--most of this stuff I already knew from my first teaching course. Thankfully a lot has changed in education since this was published and constructivist methods are more the norm, where I live anyway. Still, this is a good read with some powerful radical ideas.
Caroline Kuhlman o'neill
Jun 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
I quit this book after the tiny chapter devoted to City students (and the use of “Negro”), where the authors suggest school may not be useful to this demographic and they should use the time to make a microcosm environment to mimic society. As though a broken system was the responsibility of students to rectify.
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A relevant book seeking to find answers to educational problems which still exist today, 50 years after its writing.

(view spoiler)
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quotes from this book are too many to share. Profound, enriching, reflection-inducing. A must read for educators.
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: teaching, nonfiction
I was just looking through this again and am saddened by how many of these issues, written about almost 50 years ago, are still relevant in today's schools. I consider it a must-read for teachers.
Tiffany Balagna
Not revolutionary but a good rant all the same
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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

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