Archive for the ‘television’ category

Re: Chasing False Gods

February 19, 2008

Chris Lehmann over on the blog Practical Theory has a new post that fits perfectly with what I have been reading and blogging about here (see earlier posts) in my book club of one as I work through Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

Check it out. His challenge to us all is very important. Critical, I think. Easy – no! Media has this sexy, seductive element to it that blurs the line between deep learning and entertainment. Saavy educators are needed more than ever.

Also, see my last post on 20th century skills repackaged. It all fits together.

Ch. 7 – “Now….. This”

February 16, 2008

Continuing on with my reading – and thinking/blogging – about Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, chapter 7 continues to lay out the argument that the rapid-moving format of our television culture is duping us all into being satisfied with shallow, fragmented, and decontextualized ways of “being informed”. Postman attacks American news in particular in this chapter – news as pure entertainment, delivered in tantalizing disconnected chunks, interspersed with commercials, music, and other eye candy. I agree wholeheartedly. That is television. However, he does make a few points that really made me stop and think hard about our digital “natives” and their proclivity toward multitasking, remixing, ubiquitous socialization tools, mashups, and other schizophrenic-like behaviors.

The result, Postman writes, is that “Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.” He goes on to write:

“What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… misleading, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

and…

“In presenting news to us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do the same, so that the total information environment begins to mirror television.”

So, this all got me to thinking about our “digital natives” and us, those adults who have embraced new ways of expression and communication. I think that in this new world of data smog, info glut, and info garbage, it has become even more critical than ever to help our students learn deeply, to see information transformed into knowledge that is deeply connected, grounded, and complete. I am not so sure that the emphasis on multi-tasking, mashups, remixes, and the like qualifies here. Expressive, it is. But, are we becoming satisfied with shallow learning wrapped up in impressive packaging? Our national obsession over testing has certainly railroaded any movement toward depth over breadth. However, I think more than ever before, we must help our students become well-informed, be highly skilled at navigating through the data smog, and produce learning artifacts that demonstrate a deep understanding and mastery of knowledge. We have more tools than ever to gain a broader cultural understanding of ourselves and of the world – past and present. Lets not let these tools trivialize it. Lets help students focus on a task and exhaust it. Lets not, as Postman writes, “let the information environment mirror television.” Is a college-level course taught on YouTube or a course taught over the cell phone head in this direction? Yeah… the digital natives love this stuff. And as a tech geek, I think it is all quite amazing. Does something of value get lost along the way? Are we heading in the direction of learning as a mirror of television?

What do you think?

Ch. 6 – The Age of Show Business

February 2, 2008

(Continuing with my book blog club…)

Presidential Debates as Entertainment

In this chapter of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman begins with the claim that “Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it.” He also continues on with his thesis that technologies are merely machines and that a ‘medium’ is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates. If this is so, then the computer and Internet are the “machines” that create a new medium of social and intellectual discourse. Since Postman clearly argues how the television has detracted from intellectual discourse and literacy throughout the world, I want to contrast this with the powerful emergence of the social and intellectual environments created on-line.

Television appeals largely to emotional and visual gratification and entertainment. Television does not embrace conversation, dialog, or debate. The presidential ‘debates’ are not really debates at all. They are entertainment with a little substance thrown. These debates are more about looking good, giving off good impressions, being witty, controlled, speaking well, showmanship, … There is really little room in the televised format for true debate. Issues are brought up, candidates respond within the constraints of allotted time and set format, and then a new question or issue is presented. Issues are not exhausted, argued in depth, or resolved. The media seems more concerned with who beat whom with little in-depth analysis of their ideas or arguments…. because there really was no depth at all. Hillary’s tear received more press than did her ideas. Barack’s slight of Hillary at President Bush’s state of the union address was given more importance than were Bush’s ideas analyzed. During the address, the cameras had to continue with rapid cut-aways to celebrities and candidates, as their visual expressions were more interesting than what the President had to say. Perhaps the cameras could catch something that would be newsworthy for days… an untimely frown from Obama, Hillary dozing off or secretly smiling at Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles, or Kennedy and Obama playing rock, paper scissors…

As Postman writes, “Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it… It must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest.”

Americans “do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”

Then there is Web 2.0…… This is a “medium” that is giving the television world a run for its money. As educators, if we can capitalize on students’ natural proclivity for working and thinking in this environment, we just may have a chance at turning them from knowing the world through the lens of television media to truly understanding the world through personal perspective, through intelligent thinking and meaningful discourse, through communication locally, nationally, and globally with others and getting first-person perspective that does not get filtered through any other lens.

If anything, Postman’s ideas here give credence to this new 2.0 medium that has emerged. I shudder to think about all of the money that has been spent on getting television into schools and the return that it has brought – the advertising that students have been subjected to and the passive entertainment that has been disguised as learning (I am not saying that television has no value in the classroom.) How can administrators NOT get on board with this new environment that begs for intelligent thought, active literacies, collaboration, conversation, connection, creation, reflection, analysis,… Of course, it takes teachers to get on board and orchestrate all of this at some level. But it also takes informed and visionary administrators and I.T. personnel to make it happen.

As an example of the level of analysis and intelligent thought that television will not ever show (since television cannot show thought), check out Wesley Fryer’s recent post over at the Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog about NCLB.