Marshall McLuhan as Educationist, Part 7: Media Literacy, Lifelong Learning & the Training of Perception


Classic TV commercials of the 1970s

This is an excerpt from a copyrighted 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 7 and additional excerpts from this essay will be published in future postings. The first 6 portions of this essay can be found in earlier postings to this blog.

10. Media Literacy

Marshall McLuhan held that new media are new languages: “Radio and TV aren’t audio-visual aids to enhance or to popularize previous forms of experience. They are new languages. We must first master and then teach these new languages” (McLuhan, 1969, p. 133). Why? Because: “Without an understanding of media grammars, we cannot hope to achieve a contemporary awareness of the world in which we live” (McLuhan & Carpenter, 1960, ix-xii). The traditional literacy of reading and writing is no longer sufficient; pictorial & electronic forms of literacy have to be imparted, as well as print.

11. “Learning a Living”

McLuhan anticipated that learning and work would become increasingly interrelated and that lifelong learning would be required: “… it is becoming clear that the main “work” of the future will be education, that people will not so much earn a living as learn a living…. Industry and the military, as well as the arts and sciences, are beginning to consider education their main business” (McLuhan & Leonard, 1967, 25).

12. Curriculum Issues

Three curriculum-related issues occur in McLuhan’s writings on education. First, he felt that education must be involved in the training of perception: “The electric age is the most primitive age, in the sense of the hunter world … the only alternative to instruction is the training of perception” (McLuhan, 1972, p. 526). Second, figure/ground analysis would provide one of the tools: “The interaction between the object, or figure, & its ground enables one to experience meaning which is the relation of the situation to oneself” (McLuhan, Hutchon, & McLuhan, 1977, p. 16). That’s what “City as Classroom” is largely about. Third, McLuhan stressed the value of arts education. If artists possess “integral awareness”, as he often insisted, that sensitizes them to hidden media environments, then arts are worth cultivating in education: “… the learning process & the creative process … once reserved for scholars & geniuses we now know to be a character of all human perception.” (McLuhan, 1956, 9)

Figure 2

 Fig. 2: Multistable image of dogs and phone based on a diagram provided in McLuhan’s City as Classroom.

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