Revisiting Two Books


Returning to teaching in August 2014 meant the teacher had to reread timeless classics like Macbeth.   But this 2015 summer, as she ruminated over her 2014-2015 teaching experience, much like Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquility,” she revisited Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (1985),  and C. Sommerville’s “How the News Makes Us Dumb”(1999). Both writers nailed where we currently live!


Postman’s worry involved the threat that television watching held serious dangers academically as well as physically. Fast forward 30 years to all the techie toys now available, and we see how much amusement rules our lives.

Today’s student has the availability to access a computer link that posts nightly homework; additionally, many teachers also post the assignment on the white or smart board so the student can copy it. What’s the student’s question? “May I just take a picture on my phone”?
Hmmm. The research tells us that writing, when combined with seeing the information, and “saying” information silently, stimulates learning visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically.

The greater problem for many of today’s students lies in their addiction, yes, addiction, to the phones, social media, computer games and movies. After playing online games until the wee hours, drowsy students either sleep in, arrive late, or sit in school half asleep. Good thing schools sell sugary snacks and have soft drink machines in each hall! Forgive my cynicism, but the problem is very serious. Postman’s thoughts have become a reality far bleaker than he envisioned. Watch a toddler enthralled with the parents’ phones. Remove the phone and watch the angst.

Do we simply forbid? I believe we would be better off to teach the wise uses of technology and inform students that technology has real value for learning, and not just entertainment. That requires actual interacting among parents and their scions. Talk, explain, investigate topics… together! This productive time, begun early with the printed word (and Word) will bind generations.

 A word about the news and Sommerville’s book: his subtitle, The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society, speaks volumes. My husband, seen above reading to our youngest grandchild, has said for a number of years that news, real news, just doesn’t happen 24/7.

Is it really news that another celebrity’s marriage has collapsed? News that a professional athlete is going to jail or just being released from incarceration? That Olympic organizers have just decided athletes will have free air conditioning in Rio de Janerio in 2016?

Knowing  all this information creates a mental overload as well as worry over things that don’t affect us, or over which we have no control. This never-ending stream of factoids and sound bites leaves little time for considering weightier matters that do affect us. How will we help a neighbor or family member going through difficult times, manage our money, practice our faith? Reading afresh or revisiting both Amusing Ourselves to Death and How the News Makes Us Dumb could make us much wiser than we realize.

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