80th Anniversary of Neil Postman’s Birth

09Mar11

Engaged as some of us are in celebrating the 100th anniversary of  Marshall McLuhan’s birth this year, we need to take time to also remember the 80th anniversary of Neil Postman’s birth, which was yesterday. Neil Postman was a great scholar, skilled writer and great friend and advocate of the work Marshall McLuhan, at a time when the latter had few friends in the academic world. 

This is from my colleague, Lance Strate, of Fordham University:-

Friends, today is the 80th anniversary of Neil Postman’s birth, and by way of honoring his memory, I want to ask you, and especially those of you who have blogs and websites and/or are on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the like, to help in an effort to correct an injustice that exists online.

Neil’s most memorable quote is, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” But if you Google that quote, you’ll find that more often than not, it is attributed to someone else, specifically John W. Whitehead (the rightwing lawyer who represented Paula Jones against Bill Clinton). Naturally, this is upsetting for many of us, and it is pretty much impossible to get websites to change their listings, but we can drive them down in the Google rankings by posting in searchable sites that Neil Postman wrote “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” This is the first sentence that opens his book, The Disappearance of Childhood, which was originally published in 1982 by Delacorte Press. So, we have a begun a campaign on this day to spread the word, and set the online record straight, at least as much as possible. I explained the full story in a blog post:  http://lancestrate.blogspot.com/2011/03/children-are-living-messages-we-send-to.html   

                                                                                                  
This quote by Neil Postman (and Charles Weingartner) is an early endorsement of the ideas of Marshall McLuhan:-
 

Many of his [McLuhan’s] observations are reaffirmations of ideas previously expressed by other educationists– for example, John Dewey and A.N Whitehead– ideas which were, and still are, largely ignored by those who could profit most from them. We are especially in McLuhan’s debt for his restatement, in alliterative language, of Dewey’s belief that “we learn what we do.” McLuhan means much the same thing by his famous aphorism, “The medium is the message” (which for emphasis, fun and publicity ha has rephrased, “The medium is the message”). From this perspective, one is invited to see the most important impressions made on a human nervous system come from the character and structure of the environment within which the nervous system functions; that the environment itself conveys the critical and dominant messages by controlling the perceptions and attitudes of those who participate in it. Dewey stressed that the role of an individual is assigned in an environment– what he is permitted to do– is what the individual learns. In other words, the medium itself, i.e., the environment, is the message. “Message” here means the perceptions you are allowed to build, the attitudes you are enticed to assume, the sensitivities you are encouraged to develop– almost all of the things you learn to see and feel and value. You learn them because your environment is organized in such a way that it permits or encourages or insists that you learn them.– Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969), p. 17.

  Neil Postman (March 8, 1931 – Oct 5, 2003)

 

                                                                                   

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