Teaching As a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman, Charles Weingartner (1969)

“It’s 1969. The war in Vietnam is raging. The anti-war movement has reached a fever pitch. Militant leftists are bombing draft offices and ROTC buildings. The nation appears to be coming apart at the seams. Against this backdrop emerges a provocative little book titled Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, two unknown education professors at Queens College in New York. Billed as ‘a no-holds- barred assault on outdated teaching methods,’ the book features a clichéd red apple on the cover—except that this apple is a bomb and the stem is a lit fuse. The message is clear: Before our schools can be saved, they must first be destroyed. ‘What is it that students do in the classroom?’ the authors ask. ‘Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. Mostly, they are required to believe authorities, or at least pretend to such belief when they take tests. Mostly, they are required to remember. They are almost never required to make observations, formulate definitions, or perform any intellectual operations that go beyond repeating what someone else says is true….It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used.’ Schools, they urge, must teach young people to think critically about society, politics, and culture. To that end, they propose doing away with grades, tests, textbooks, courses, and full-time administrators. Teachers must abandon their traditional roles as authority figures and become more like consultants or coaches. No more ‘content.’ No more ‘subjects.’ No more ‘irrelevant’ classes. Instead, learning must become a process, not a product. Teachers should teach by asking questions—not questions to which they already know the answers, but questions that will get kids to think for themselves. Postman and Weingartner offer these examples: ‘What bothers you most about adults? Why?’ ‘How can ‘good’ be distinguished from ‘evil’?’ ‘What are the dumbest and most dangerous ideas that are ‘popular’ today? Why do you think so? Where did these ideas come from?’ And so on. …”
Education Week
W – Inquiry education
NY Times (May 11, 1969)
[PDF] V. What’s Worth Knowing?

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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