Marshall McLuhan as Educationist, Part 5: The Probe as Pedagogy & Classroom Without Walls


This is an excerpt from a copyright article of the same title published by me, Alex Kuskis, in (2011) Explorations in Media Ecology, 10(3&4), pp. 313-333. This is Part 5 and additional excerpts from this essay will be published in future postings.

3. The Probe as Pedagogy

Again, that’s terminology used by the author of this essay, not McLuhan, but the phrase applies McLuhan’s idea of an intellectual probe to education and supports his endorsement of discovery learning, since that’s what probes are meant to do – discover something new. The Book of Probes defines the probe as: “… a means or method of perceiving. It comes from the world of conversation & dialogue … Like conversation, the verbal probe is discontinuous, nonlinear; it tackles things from many angles at once” (McLuhan & Carson, 2003, 403). On the need for probing in education, McLuhan wrote:

Education on all levels has to move from packaging to probing,  from the mere conveying of data to the experimental discovering of new dimensions of experience. The search will have to be for patterns of experience and discovery of principles of organization which have universal application, not for facts. … our whole world … has already shifted from data packaging to probing of patterns” (McLuhan, 1966, 41-42).

4. Classroom without Walls

In “The Book of Probes” (2003) McLuhan is quoted as saying that: “The metropolis today is a classroom, the ads are its teachers. The traditional classroom is AN OBSOLETE DETENTION HOME, [his emphasis] a feudal dungeon” (p. 126). McLuhan asserted the need to take learning out of classrooms; hence the 1977 book written in collaboration with Eric McLuhan and Kathryn Hutchon, “City as Classroom”, McLuhan’s only book dedicated exclusively to education. Oddly, it’s intended for classroom use, but many of the assignments are experiential, designed to take students out into the cityscape.

He writes elsewhere: “… 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” (McLuhan, 1966). Later he expanded the ground for education not just to the city or cities, but rather to the whole world: “The little red schoolhouse is already well on its way toward becoming the little round schoolhouse” (McLuhan & Leonard, 1967). Thus the global village was morphed into the global school, which is a remarkable anticipation of the Internet, perhaps the most powerful learning platform yet devised.

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