24 avril 2017

Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (note de lectura)

This book is based on two assumptions:
a) the survival of our society is threatened by an increasing number of unprecedented and, to date, insoluble problems;
b) something can be done to improve the situation.
A list of huge american issues:
- the number one health problems is mental illness;
- the crime (from delinquency among adolescents to fraud perpetrated by some of the richest corporations);
- the suicide problem;
- the misinformation (“news management”) – lies, clichés, rumors.
Problems related to the population explosion: birth-control problem, abortion problem, housing problem, parking problem, food and water-supply problem.
This book tries to be about the “What, if anything, can we do about these problems?” problem.
Change is the most striking characteristic of the world we live in and our educational system has not yet recognized this fact.
Within the educational establishment there are insufficient daring and vigorous ideas on which to build a new approach to education. One must look to men whose books would rarely be used, or even thought of, in education courses, and would not be listed under the subject ‘education’ in libraries.
Almost all the educators deal with qualitative problems in quantitative terms, and, in doing so, miss the point.

Crap Detecting
In the early 1960’s, an interviewer was trying to get Ernest Hemingway to identify the characteristics required for a person to be a 'great writer'. As the interviewer offered a list of various possibilities, Hemmingway disparaged each in sequence. Finally, frustrated, the interviewer asked, 'Isn't then any one essential ingredient that you can identify?' Hemingway replied, ‘Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.'
Hemingway identified an essential survival strategy and the essential function of the school in today’s world.
David Riesman – the “counter-cyclical” approach to education;
Norbert Wiener – the school must function as “anti-entropic feedback systems”;
Eric Hoffer – the quality of maintenance is one of the best indices of the quality of life in a culture;
John Garner – “ever-renewing society”;
Kenneth Boulding – “social self-consciousness”;
An insensitivity to the unconscious effects of our “natural” metaphors condemns us to highly constricted perceptions of how things are and, therefore, to highly limited alternatives modes of behaviors.
Each one of us is born into a symbolic environment as well as a physical one. We become accustomed very early to a ‘natural’ way of talking, and being talked to, about ‘truth’. Quite arbitrarily, one’s perception of what is ‘true’ or real is shaped by the symbols and symbol-manipulating institutions of his tribe. Most men, in time, learn to respond with favor and obedience to a set of verbal abstractions which they feel provides them with an ideological identity.
There is probably nothing more dangerous to the prejudices of the latter than a man in the process of discovering that the language of his group is limited, misleading, or one-sided.
There are three particular problems which forces us to conclude that the schools must remake themselves into training centers for ‘subversion’:
a) the communication revolution – a change in an environment is rarely only additive or linear; you need new patterns of defense, perception, understanding, evaluation; you need a new kind of education;
Jacques Ellul – there can be no effective propaganda without mass media; with them, there is almost nothing but.
Norbert Wiener’s paradox – as the number of messages increases, the amount of information carried decreases. We have more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.
b) the change revolution
Norbert Winner, to those who say that the change isn’t new and it’s easy to exaggerate its meaning: the difference between a fatal and a therapeutic dose of strychnine is ‘only a matter of degree’. Change isn’t new, what is new is the degree of change. Change changed.
c) the burgeoning bureaucracy
Bureaucracies are by their nature highly resistant to change. Bureaucratic structures retard development and application of new survival strategies.
The most teachers have the idea that they are in some other sort of business:
a) ‘information dissemination’ business;
b) ‘transmission of our cultural heritage’ business.
Future shock occurs when you are confronted by the fact that the world you were educated to believe in doesn’t exist.
We would like to see the schools go into the anti-entropy business.

2. The Medium is the Message, Of Course
John Dewey – We learn what we do.
The most important impressions made on a human nervous system come from the character and structure of the environment within which the nervous system functions; that the environment itself conveys the critical and dominant messages by controlling the perceptions and attitudes of those who participate in it. Dewey expressed that the role an individual is assigned in an environment - what he is permitted to do - is what the individual learns. In other words, the medium itself, i.e. the environment, is the message. 'Message' here means the perception you are allowed to build, the attitudes you are enticed to assume the sensitivities you are encouraged to develop - almost all of the things you learn to see and feel and value. You learn than because your environment is organized in such a way that it permits or encourages or insists that you learn them.
McLuhan  - “In what ways does the structure or process of the medium environment manipulate out senses and attituds?”
‘The medium is the message’ implies that the invention of a dichotomy between content and method is both naive and dangerous. It implies that the critical content of any learning experience is the method or process through which the learning occurs.
What students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants them to say.
The structure of the class communicates:
a) Passive acceptance is a more desirable response to ideas than active criticism.
b) Discovering knowledge is beyond the power of students and is, in any case, none of their business.
c) Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of unrelated ‘facts’ is the goal of education.
d) The voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgement.
e) One’s own ideas and those of one’s classmates are inconsequential.
f) Feelings are irrelevant in education.
g) There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.
The public has learned that instant answer giving is the most important sign of an educated man.
The most important and intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school, by arranging  the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. Asking questions is behavior. If you don’t do it, you don’t learn it.

3. The Inquiry Method
The inquiry method of teaching and learning is an attempt at redesigning the structure of the classroom.
The libel-label gambit – the human tendency to dismiss an idea by the expedience of naming it.
The rearview-mirror syndrome – most of us are incapable of understanding the impact of new media because we are like drivers whose gaze is fixed not on where we are going but on where we came from.
The story line – our stories are characterized precisely by their lack of continuity.
McLuhan – the electric age has heightened our perception of structure by disrupting what we call the linearity of information flow.
The inquiry method is very much a product of our eclectic age. It makes the syllabus obsolete; students generate their own stories by becoming involved in the methods of learning.
Socrates had no story line to communicate and, therefore, no syllabus. His teaching was essentially about process; his method, his message.
Once you start a man thinking, there is no telling where he will go.
What is a good learner?
a) good learners have confidence in their ability to learn. They have a profound faith that they are capable of solving problems;
b) good learners tend to enjoy solving problems;
c) good learners seem to know what is relevant to their survival and what is not;
d) good learners prefer to rely on their own judgement;
e) good learners are not fearful of being wrong;
f) good learners are emphatically, not fast answerer;
g) good learners are flexible;
h) good learners have a high degree of respect for facts and are skillful in making distinctions between statements of fact and other kind of statements;
i) good learners do not need to have an absolute, final, irrevocable resolution to every problem.
The environment for learning has four major components:
a) the teacher;
b) the students;
c) the problems;
d) the strategies for solving problems.
The inquiry teacher:
a) rarely tells the student what he thinks they ought to know;
b) his basic mode of discourse with students is questioning;
c) he does not accept a single statement as an answer to a question;
d) he encourages student-student interaction as opposed to student-teacher interaction;
e) he rarely summarizes the positions taken by students on the learning’s that occur;
His lessons develop from the response of students and not from a previously determined ‘logical’ structure.
Generally, each of his lessons poses a problem for students.
His goal is to engage students in those activities which produce knowledge: defining, questioning, observing, classifying, generalizing, verifying, applying.

4. Pursuing Relevance
The school is a a game called “Let’s pretend”.
 There is no way to help a learner to be disciplined, active and thoroughly engaged unless he perceives  a problem to be a problem or whatever is to-be-learned as worth learning, and unless he plays an active role in determining the process of solution.
No one will learn anything he doesn’t want to know. Reason must have an adequate emotional base if education is to accomplish its purpose.
Question: “What’s worth knowing?”
The enthusiasm that community leaders display for an educational innovation is in inverse proportion to its significance to the learning process.
One of the reasons for the absence of relevance in school environments is that our society does not much care for youth.

5. What’s Worth Knowing?
We have a possibility for you to consider: suppose that you decide to have the entire 'curriculum' consist of questions. These questions would have to be worth seeking answers to not only from your point of view but, more importantly, from the point of view of the students. In order to get still closer to reality, add the requirement that the questions must help the students to develop and internalize concepts that will help than to survive in the rapidly changing world of the present and future.
Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.
What do you worry about most?
What are the causes of your worries?
Can any of your worries be eliminated? How?
Which of them might you deal with first? How do you decide?
Are there other people with the same problems? How do you know? How can you find out?
If you had an important idea that you wanted to let everyone (in the world) know about, how might you go about letting them know?
What bothers you most about adults? Why?
How do you want to be similar to or different from adults you know when you become an adult?
What, if anything, seems to you to be worth dying for?
How did you come to believe this?
What seems worth living for?
How did you come to believe this?
At the present moment, what would you most like to be - or be able to do?
Why? What would you have to know in order to be able to do it? What would you have to do in order to get to know it?
How can you tell 'good guys' from 'bad guys'?
How can 'good' be distinguished from 'evil'?
What kind of a person would you most like to be? How might you get to be this kind of person?
At the present moment, what would you most like to be doing?
Five years from now? Ten years from now? Why? What might you have to do to realize these hopes? What might you have to give up in order to do some or all of these things?
When you hear or read or observe something, how do you know what it means?
Where does meaning 'come from'?
What does 'meaning' mean?
How can you tell what something 'is' or whether it is?
Where do words come from?
Where do symbols come from?
Why do symbols change?
Where does knowledge come from?
What do you think are sane of man's most important ideas?
Where did they come from? Why? How? Now what?
What's a 'good idea'?
How do you know when a good or live idea becomes a bad or dead idea?
Which of man's ideas would we be better off forgetting? How do you decide?
What is 'progress'?
What is 'change'?
What are the most obvious causes of change? What are the least apparent?
What conditions are necessary in order for change to occur?
What kinds of changes are going on right now? Which are important? How are they similar to or different from other changes that have occurred?
What are the relationships between new ideas and change?
Where do new ideas come from? How come? So what?
If you wanted to stop one of the changes going on now (pick one), how would you go about it? What consequences would you have to consider?

Heisenberg: “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our methods of questioning.”
It is clear that the structure that is perceived in a subject is solely some perceiver’s way of viewing things. The structure was made, invented, imagined by a perceiver.

6. Meaning Making
The new education enters into an entirely new ‘business’: fundamentally, the crap-detecting and relevance business.
Types of teachers:
a) the Lamplighter;
b) the Gardener;
c) the Personal Manager;
d) the Muscle Builder;
e) the Bucket Filler.
English teachers usually define a metaphor only in a literary sense. But all language is metaphor to one degree or another. The only reality that is not metaphorical is reality itself. All human symbolization, therefore, is metaphor, an abstraction, an ‘as if’. The word is not the thing, [...]. Whatever you say something is, it is not. Saying something about the world is not the world [...]. The rest of us always wrestle with the question ‘What words shall use to represent “things”?’ The problem is complicated by the fact that ‘things’ are so damned wiggly. And further by the fact that almost nothing is more wiggly than the process of ‘minding’.
Our sentence structure is predisposed to the idea that each of us is separate and distinct from what is outside of our skin.
We do not get our perceptions from the ‘things’ around us. Our perceptions come from us. It does mean that whatever is ‘out there’ can never be known except as if is filtered through a human nervous system. We can never get outside of our own skins. ‘Reality’ is a perception, located somewhere behind the eyes.
What we perceive is largely a function of our previous experiences, our assumptions and our purposes. In other words, the perceiver decides what an object is, where it is, and why it is, according to his purpose and the assumptions that he makes at any given time.
We are unlikely to aim our perceptions until and unless we are frustrated in our attempts to do something based on them. If our actions seem to permit us to fulfill our purposes, we will not change our perceptions no matter how often we are told that they are ‘wrong’.
Since our perceptions come from us and our past experience, it is obvious that each individual will perceive what is ‘out there’ in a unique way.
Perception is, to a much greater extent than previously imagined, a function of the linguistic categories available to the perceiver. As we said, reality is a perception located somewhere behind the eyes. But behind the eyes there is a language process. We know that nature never repeats or standardizes. We do it. And how we do it depends on the categories and classifications of our language system.
The meaning of the perception is how it causes us to act.
Many children, particularly minority-group children, turn out dull because their teachers expect them to be dull.
We see things not as there are, but as we are.

7. Languaging
It is not uncommon in the history of the human group for a simple idea to change the entire direction of life in a society.
The idea of a man meaning maker could be such a tremendous idea to change everything.
The best anyone can ever do is to say how something appears to him. The cosmos offers no absolute confirmations.
‘Projection’ means that we transfer our own feelings and evaluations to objects outside of us.
The point of view about language and reality has sometimes been called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Each language language represents a unique way of perceiving reality. We have no choice but to see what the structure of the language permits us to see.
Language is not merely a vehicle of expression, it is also the driver.
A discipline is a way of knowing, and whatever is known is inseparable from the symbols (mostly words) in which the knowing is codified.
Every teacher is a language teacher.
The new education, in addition to being student-centered and question-centered must be language-centered.
The study of language is the study of our ways of living, which is to say our ways of perceiving reality.
The history of science is a chronicle of the unhappy responses that have occurred when someone, somewhere, has pointed out that what everyone had been saying and believing up to that point is nonsense.
Language is our most profound and possibly least visible environment.
What are some of the specific kinds of awareness Korzybski’s system is intended to develop?
First, and probably central to all the others, is the awareness that meaning is not ‘in’ words.
A second concept is the awareness that words are not what they ostensibly refer to (‘the word is not the thing’).
‘Consciousness of the process of abstraction’ – out of a virtually infinite universe of possible things to pay attention to, we abstract only certain portions, and those portions turn out to be the ones for which we have verbal labels or categories.
The third kind of semantic awareness is an awareness of varying levels of abstraction. Words vary in the degree to which they correspond to verifiable referents.
The fourth kind of semantic awareness might be called the ‘direction of meaning’. With increasingly abstract or general words, the direction of meaning shifts accordingly from ‘outside’ to ‘inside’. Scientific language is almost exclusively extensional and denotative, or at least tries to be.
Sanity is a function of the degree to which language corresponds to things externally verifiable.
A fifth kind of semantic awareness has to do with the ‘photographic’ effects of language. We live in a universe of constant process. We snapshot these changes by naming them. The names we use tend to ‘fix’ that which is named.
Oversimplification has the effect of allowing action to be taken immediately, without one’s enduring the burden of undergoing a process of extensional verification.
Very few problems of any great significance can be answered if they are approached form a ‘closed’-system point of view.
Questions are instruments of perception.
The nature of a question determines the nature of its answer.
A symbol system is a point of view.
Meaning is in people. Without people there are no meanings.

8. New Teachers
In order for a perception to change one must be frustrated in one’s actions or change one’s purpose.
No one can force anyone else to change his perception.
a) Declare a five-year moratorium on the use of all textbooks.
b) Have English teachers teach maths, maths teachers English, social studies teachers science, science teachers art and son on.
c) Transfer all the elementary-school teachers to high school and vice versa.
d) Require every teacher who thinks he knows his subject well to write a book on it.
e) Dissolve all subjects, courses, and especially course requirements.
f) Limit each teacher to three declarative sentences per class, and fifteen interrogations.
g) Prohibit teachers from asking any questions they already know the answers to.
h) Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades.
i) Require all teachers to undergo some form of psychotherapy as part of their in-service training.
j) Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public.
k) Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students on what the students know.
l) Make every class an elective and withhold a teacher’s monthly cheque if his students do not show any interest in going to next month’s classes.
m) Require every teacher to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in some field other than education.
n) Require every teacher to provide some sort of evidence than he or she has had a loving relationship with at least one other human being.
o) Require that all the graffiti accumulated in the school toilets be reproduced on huge paper and be hung in the school halls.
p) There should be a general prohibition against the use of the following words and phrases: teach, syllabus, covering ground, IQ, makeup, test, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhancement, course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material and administrative necessity.

9. City Schools

10. New Languages: The media
McLuhan has suggested that the new electric media of communication comprise new languages.
More than the tool making animal, man is the symbolizing animal by definition.
Print changed the very form of civilization. It is not entirely coincidence, for instance, that the Protestant Reformation was contemporaneous with the invention of movable type.
Print promoted individualism on the one hand and nationalism on the other.
Print no longer monopolizes man’s symbolic environment.
The way to be liberated from the constraining effects of any medium is to develop a perspective on it – how it works and what it does.

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