The End of Education, by Neil Postman


Could easily be considered in the top five of books on education I’ve ever read.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“There is no one who can say that this or that is the best way to know things, to feel things, to see things, to remember things, to apply things, to connect things and that no other will do as well. In fact, to make such a claim is to trivialize learning, to reduce it to a mechanical skill” (pg 3).

“The measure of a narrative’s ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ is in its consequences: Does it provide people with a sense of personal identity, a sense of community life, a basis for moral conduct, explanations of that which cannot be known? . . . without a narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention.” (pg 7).

“All gods are imperfect, even dangerous” (pg 11).

“What makes public schools public is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods. The reason for this is that public education does not serve a public. It creates a public . . . the question is, what kind of public does it create? (pg 18).

“The evidence for the superiority of one method over another is usually given in the language of statistics, which, in spite of its abstract nature, is strangely referred to as ‘hard evidence’ . . . there was a time when educators became famous for providing reasons for learning; now they become famous for inventing a method” (pg 26).

“Economic Utility . . . is a passionless god, cold and severe. But it makes a promise, and not a trivial one. Addressing the young, it offers a covenant of sorts with them: If you will pay attention in school, and do your homework, and score well on tests, and behave yourself, you will be rewarded with a well-paying job when you are done” (pg 27).

“The idea of school is that individuals must learn in a setting in which individuals needs are subordinated to group interests . . . at present, most scenarios describing the uses of computers have children solving problems alone” (pg 45).

“ . . . the reason why students are demoralized, bored, and distracted is not that teachers lack interesting methods and machinery but that both students and teachers lack a narrative to provide profound meaning to their lessons” (pg 51).

“Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma . . . When people believe that they have absolute knowledge . . . this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of the gods” (pg 69) - Bronowski attempting to create a religious metaphor of Auschwitz.

“All children enter school as question marks and leave as periods” (pg 70).

“Sameness is the enemy of vitality and creativity {and} excellence, for where there are few or no differences - in genetic structure, in language, in art - it is not possible to develop robust standards of excellence . . . the law of diversity thus makes intelligent humans of us all” (pg 78, 79, 81).

“Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?” (pg 94).

“A sense of responsibility for the planet is born from a sense of responsibility for one’s own neighborhood” (pg 100).

“In learning about differences, we become less afraid and therefore more courageous. In learning about commonalities, we become more hopeful” (pg 110).

“There is nothing more human than the stories of our errors and how we have managed to overcome them and ten fallen into error again, and continued our efforts to make corrections - stories without end . . . ‘To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.” (pg 124).

“At present, there is very little tolerance for errors in the classroom. That is one of the reasons students cheat. It is one of the reasons students are nervous. It is one of the reason many students are reluctant to speak. It is certainly the reason why students (and the rest of us) fight so hard to justify what they think they know” (pg 125).

“We are imperfect souls, our knowledge is imperfect. The history of learning is an adventure in overcoming our errors” (pg 128).

A Possible Final Exam:

“Describe five of the most significant errors scholars have made in (biology, physics, history, etc.). Indicate why they are errors, who made them, and what persons are mainly responsible for correcting them” (pg 128).

“It is the role of the teacher to provide objectivity, which means to guide the inquiry with as much open-mindedness as possible” (pg 160).

“Everything we know has its origin in questions. Questions, we might say, are the principal intellectual instruments available to human beings” (pg 173).

“Our language habits are at the core of how we imagine the world” (pg 176).

Technology education: “It is somewhat embarrassing that this needs to be proposed as an innovation in schools, since Americans never tire of telling themselves that they have created a technological society. They even seem to be delighted about this and many of them believe that the pathway to a fulfilling life is through continuous technological change. One would expect then that technology education would be a familiar subject in American schools. But it is not. Technology may have entered the schools but not technology education” (pg 189).