A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

More on education at high speed

Marshall McLuhan (February 1960, age 48).  The adolescent has been replaced by the teenager

Teachers are failing to teach because they insist on treating teenagers as if they were adolescents.  (See Edgar Friedenberg’s fine book The Vanishing Adolescent.)  Adolescent means the stage between childhood and adulthood.  That stage no longer exists.  Electronic media have abolished the adolescent.  What we are left with is the teenager.  An adult aged 13 to 19.  I should know, several of them are underfoot at home.  To paraphrase the familiar anecdote, take my teenager, please.

Me (December 2009, age 57).  McLuhan underestimated the size of the problem

In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman argued that the electronic age has not only abolished adolescence it has robbed children of a great deal of their childhood.  In the middle ages children were treated as adults as soon as they could speak with fluency, say, age 6 to 8.  The print revolution caused childhood to be extended and adolescence added on because of the extra demands learning to read placed on young people in addition to learning to speak.  Today, Postman argues electric media have undone the work the print revolution did.

What does this mean for the understanding of schooling?  Basically, the problems of the teenager – disaffection and disengagement with traditional class room teaching, dropping out, illiteracy –  will be found increasingly among older children.

Why do people keep on insisting that children and teenagers be book-learned in the age of digital and social media?  You can try to keep twitter out the classroom but can you keep the classroom out of twitter?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Neil Postman.  The End of Education: Redefining the value of school.  New York: Vintage Books, 1995; 1996.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, December 19th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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