City as Classroom (1977) – McLuhan’s Last Co-authored Book

27Jul13

City as Classroom

City as Classroom: Understanding Language & Media” (1977) was the last book written wholly or partly by Marshall McLuhan and the only one entirely focused on education. His earlier “Report on Project in Understanding New Media” (1960), was the length of a short book, but was disseminated as an unbound stapled typescript. “City as Classroom” was co-authored by Eric McLuhan and Kathryn Hutchon (later Kawasaki), a former English student of McLuhan’s and a high school teacher in the Toronto District School Board. In this recently made available (by Bob Dobbs) audio recorded informal interview by Carl Scharfe, McLuhan talks about the initial inspiration for “City as Classroom” being Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” (1970) in which the author wrote:

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives…. Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction.” (p. 12)

Audio recording: http://fivebodied.com/archives/audio/catalog/McLuhan/MM-Hollander.mp3

Norm Friesen offers an acute discussion of “City as Classroom” in this excerpt from his essay “Education of the Senses: The Pedagogy of Marshall McLuhan” (2009):

McLuhan’s most detailed outline for pedagogical praxis is provided in a book deliberately designed for use in the classroom ‐‐ a co‐authored textbook developed specifically for high school students, titled The City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media. This text is almost entirely performative or praxis‐oriented. In fact, it can be said to perform, through questions, exercises and imperatives, many aspects of McLuhan’s life‐long mediatic and pedagogical enterprise. Appropriately, it begins with a direct address to its student readers:

Let us begin by wondering just what you are doing sitting there at your desk. Here [in the pages that follow] are some questions for you to explore…The questions and experiments you will find in this book are all concerned with important, relatively unexplored areas of our social environment. The research you choose to do will be important and original. (1) 

The book presents dozens of “questions and experiments,” getting students to manipulate and explore a wide range of characteristics of their social environments – focusing specifically on the environments presented by the classroom, the community and also by a wide range of contemporary mediatic  forms, from the magazine to video recording technologies. You can read the full essay (pdf) here: http://learningspaces.org/files/mcluhan_educating_senses.pdf

cityasclassroom_redcover

An unidentified blogger on education writes about McLuhan’s last book thus:

[McLuhan] return[ed] to notions about the classroom that he had first begun to work out a quarter of a century before in Explorations. ‘Classroom without Walls’ (Explorations 7 [1957]) argues that the electronic information explosion has been so great that ‘most learning occurs outside the classroom’ (ExC 1). This has broken the hegemony of the book as a teaching aid and challenged the monopoly on education vested in official institutions of learning. Yet most educators persist in regarding the products of the mass media as entertainment, rather than as educative. McLuhan points out, however, that many literary classics were originally regarded in the same way, and that the English language is itself a mass medium. The educational imperative is, thus, to master the new media in order to ‘assimilate them to our total cultural heritage’ (2) which would ‘provide the basic tools of perception’ as well as developing ‘judgment and discrimination with ordinary social experience’ (3). This observation is the point of departure for City as Classroom, which outlines methods for training perception through a series of exercises in properties of the media, with the goal of helping students to understand the sociocultural context in which they live. The exercises encourage students to go out into the community and observe, listen, interview, research, and think about the way in which their classroom space influences what they can and cannot know — ‘What did the designers of traditional schools intend when they put thirty or so desks in rows, facing the front of the room? Why is the blackboard at the front? why is the teacher’s desk at the front?’ (4).” (pp. 220-221) http://tinyurl.com/lzjh94g 

***

We have to realize that more instruction is going on outside the classroom, many times more every minute of the day than goes on inside the classroom. That is, the amount of information that is embedded in young minds per minute outside the classroom far exceeds anything that happens inside the classroom in just quantitative terms now.” “In the future basic skills will no longer be taught in classrooms.” – McLuhan, M. (1966, April). Electronics & the psychic drop-out. THIS Magazine is about SCHOOLS.  p. 38.

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3 Responses to “City as Classroom (1977) – McLuhan’s Last Co-authored Book”

  1. 1 Michael McLuhan MPA

    You know Alex, To give it it’s due, Laws of the Media was written in manuscript form with Dad and then made ready for publication by Eric. Perhaps that was the last co authored book? Best, Michael

    • Sure Michael, that is true enough, and I didn’t forget LOM or the other posthumous works that have been completed and/or prepared for publication by Eric. It is always difficult to know how to categorize posthumously published works brought to publishable form by someone else. I guess one would have to assess the degree of completion of the original manuscript. By that account I agree with you that LOM should likely be considered Marshall McLuhan’s last co-authored book. Thanks for the reminder.


  1. 1 La biblioteca omnívora

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