Hey, Wait A Minute Mr. Postman … This is not what I ‘Faustian’ Bargained For

To start my blog I wanted to know a little more about Dr. Neil Postman (liked him off the start when he said ““Every teacher,” Postman said, “must be a history teacher.”), but after ‘attacking’ the educational value of Sesame Street … that had me signing – ‘Hey, Wait A Minute Mr. Postman‘. So I went to the internet to learn more (something I found out would be something Postman himself may have challenged me doing). I found an interview that he did that was thought provoking and gave me some insights into Postman’s mindset. 

He challenged the use of technology as a crutch (in some ways he was ahead of his time) that we rely on too much whether it is not interacting with fellow citizens and just engaging in interactions from home, changed the format of debate (he referenced the US political TV debate’s new format and how that is not really a debate (how timely is that)), and even that technology is replacing faith and that may be the ‘solve’ the problem of death. 

But how can I listen to a person who challenged my love and faith in Sesame Street (click on the link to read a great counterargument to Postman – but also look at who owns the site it is from – make your own conclusions people) . Also check out this ultimate Sesame Street playlist (lady bug picnic, ain’t easy being green and more) for your listening pleasure (ah good times :-)).

On a quick aside, how they were ok talking with a giant 7 foot bird and a monster that lives in a trash can but were not ok with believing in Snuffy but I digress.

Word!!!

So again I went to the internet to find the context of Postmans’s ‘outrageous’ statements.  I found the article in which this ‘blasphemous’ claim was made.  However as, I read this article it, I found myself nodding my head in reluctant agreement.  This quote brought into focus the ‘preposterous’ propositions put forth by Postman (I’m even impressed with my alliteration here haha).

Whereas a classroom is a place of social interaction, the space in front of a television set is a private preserve. Whereas in a classroom, one may ask a teacher questions, one can ask nothing of a television screen. Whereas school is centered on the development of language, television demands attention to images. Whereas attending school is a legal requirement, watching television is an act of choice. Whereas in school, one fails to attend to the teacher at the risk of punishment, no penalties exist for failing to attend to the television screen. Whereas to behave oneself in school means to observe rules of public decorum, television watching requires no such observances, has no concept of public decorum. Whereas in a classroom, fun is never more than a means to an end, on television it is the end in itself.

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Yet another great quote from Postman that was also brought up in our class put everything in perspective for me.

New technology is a kind of Faustian bargain. It always gives us something, but it always takes away something important. That’s true of the alphabet, and the printing press, and telegraph, right up through the computer.

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What is the Faustian Bargain? – Check Out This Video to Learn More

I appreciated the messages in this video. Though most of my formal education growing up would be considered ‘traditional’ (and I was relatively successful with this), I know that implementing learning opportunities in coding and makerspaces that would go back to big picture learning like what happened before the Industrial Revolution (as mentioned in the video) would be beneficial to how we actually learn best. One big reason I am a proponent of seeing this more  regularly in the classroom (and I’m learning a lot in our presentation prep on these topics).

So I now better understand Postman’s claim of how Sesame Street undermines school and how that relates to the technologies of today. Postman passed away just as the ‘smart’ phones were starting up. I’m sure Postman would see past the ‘bells and whistles’ of apps, You Tube, and other education technology and would ‘double-down’ on his claims today.

What a bargain!

The Audio Visual Group on Tuesday did a great job. Thanks Lisa, Tammy, Tarina and Caleigh  (I also appreciated extra resources they provided https://wakelet.com/wake/HLvvtNB_rmjsX52ytwI8n )

Great Presentation.

I enjoyed (for me) a trip down memory lane (not ancient history honest) and I interacted and still interact with many of the audio / visual materials that were presented.  I know I was always happy when the TV/VCR combo was rolled in (such an upgrade from the filmstrip projector – always volunteered to advance the strip at the beep so I’d be awake (didn’t always work though haha).

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One quote, from a suggested reading, had me thinking about the use of AV in the classroom.

Not exposing children to different forms of technology is depriving them of vital learning opportunities that could benefit them in later life for example through increased career opportunities. AV lessons should not just consist of children working in pairs on a PowerPoint presentation or rewriting a piece of work using Word, ICT should be challenging, exciting and fun.

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I don’t think it the fact that they are using technology that is the main point of this statement as it is the people skills that are promoted to make it ‘challenging, exciting, and fun’.  It’s not about the technology it is about the learner experience and technology should be a tool not an ends to a means.  I think that is a main underlying layer to Postman’s dissertation that if we use technology to learn with what are we depriving the learner in return. I feel a tweet I found recently and the corresponding article does a great job of reminding educators of this point.

As always, I learn so much about this and other topics from our #eci833 tribe (the collective wisdom in this group exemplifies connectivism in my opinion).  Catherine wrote a great blog (as usual).  It was full of great research and points, but I really appreciated her sharing her personal experience and her point (which we can never hear enough of) and is : “The biggest lesson I took away from the Spring 2020 remote emergency learning period was that we need to keep. it. simple.” I love integrating technology into my craft and practice, but I always reflect on what is the trade off like Postman suggests.  Catherine’s simple yet effective point is something I honestly try to put at the forefront of the educational decisions I make for me and my students.  Which led into the great question that Shelby posed about audio / visual in her blog. “What I believe it comes down to is engagement vs. entertainment.” Her points about not over using and using the SAMR model when planning to use audio / visual materials were very much appreciated.  So to make sure that we make sure the trade-offs and give and take of using audio/visual positive, I will take Lisa’s advice …

“So to sum it up, we need to use technology in meaningful purposeful ways. We need to not worry if sometimes our lessons or content is boring to kids because that is ok too. But what we do need is powerful, meaningful daily connections in a safe, caring, risk-taking environment where kids know that everything is going to be ok.”

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7 thoughts on “Hey, Wait A Minute Mr. Postman … This is not what I ‘Faustian’ Bargained For

  1. Great post Dean!
    Postman was definitely ahead of his time. He had a vision of the future, and describes so many concerns we see today. However, whenever I read something he has written, I’m always left feeling like he’s missed the other side of the coin. Although he is very thought-provoking and brings up great points to consider.
    Thanks for sharing the Faustian Bargain video. Interesting how the Industrial revolution changed how we function and how hard it is to reverse those changes! I couldn’t help but sing, “Money makes the world go around…” as I watched.
    Love the way you brought everything together throughout your post!

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    1. Yeah. I agree he’s seems a little on the one side (That why I also put in the article from pbs website about the good Sesame Street did too) but made some good points. That’s why any tech integration needs to be thoughtful. Like I said during class I loved watching Sesame Street and think I turned out ok. Haha thanks for the post 👍

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  2. Very eloquently put, Dean… You are always so reflective and such a deep thinker. “It’s not about the technology it is about the learner experience and technology should be a tool not an ends to a means”. This quote right here is what it is all about. We need to consider the learner and the tool. Everything is a process and it sounds like you have that down pat. What I want to know for you is where is your next step in the learning process??… you have so much to offer and I appreciate all of your input/advice/knowledge… You know exactly the right mix of it all. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I’m very humbled by your response. I don’t have it totally figured out (and probably won’t and I’m ok with that). I keep growing and in some ways that is my next step … embracing change and the evolution of learning. That’s one of the many reasons I love what I do and having conversations with good people like you.

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  3. Thank you Dean for sharing your thoughts! I absolutely agree with you regarding purposeful use of AV tools. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to live and teach without them. I think they offer a great value especially when it comes to teaching English to newcomer students. After today’s conversation with Bryan Sanders, my question is why would we not want to use AV tools when it can help us provide students with such complex learning experiences that they can use at their own pace?

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