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Teaching as a Subversive Activity

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  910 Ratings  ·  65 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A no-holds-barred assault on outdated teaching methods--with dramatic & practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today's world.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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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
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
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
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
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
Emma Thompson
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
Katy Benway
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone with any 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, b
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!
Linda DeYounge
Jun 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Linda by: Katy Benway
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
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
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?
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.
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.
Guida Allès
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: educació
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
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Postman delivers a convincing, challenging critique of the current (per 1960s) education system by his proposal of a method based on questions, the "inquiry method." In sum, he points out failures of education systems that focus myopically on the past without preparing students for this nuclear age or, in fact, even interesting students enough to learn anything significant. Indeed, Postman urges the reader to realize that kill and drill exercises, multiple guessing (i.e. merely regurgitating inf ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Teachers, parents, conscious change makers
Well articulated stimulating and profound. Possibly more relevant today than when it was published, the “lessons” and information continue to resonate. I wish I had read this 40 years ago.
“Good learners, in other words, prefer to rely on their own judgment. They recognize, especially as they get older, that an incredible number of people do not know what they are talking about most of the time. pg 30
“Perhaps most importantly, good learners do not need to have an absolute, final, irrevocable reso
Debbie Morrison
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, favorites
“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
Erik Akre
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anti-establishment teachers
Shelves: education, america
A book to change your ideas about education, and education the way it is right now. This was written in 1969, and amazingly not a lot has changed. "School" is still "school," and our children are being thrown to a world for which they need skills that absent in their school environment.

Postman and Weingartner are coming at the problems of the 20th century with a post-modern recipe for cultural change. Rather than disseminating dead ideas left over from a previous time, we need to educate kids by
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.

Lisa Nimz
Dec 25, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: education
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
Mar 22, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1960s, dew001-499
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
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
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  • The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think And How Schools Should Teach
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  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
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...

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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.” 15 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.” 6 likes
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