Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Ever remember thinking the thought in high school or college or church or mosque or synagogue:

"Why in the [insert explicative here] am I learning this!?"

Want to read a book that will make you excited and uncomfortable all at the same time?

Ladies and gentlemen: please meet Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

A book written in 1969 about education that was so good even Playboy liked it.

Here's a short excerpt:

Examine the types of questions teachers ask in classrooms and you will find that most of them are what might be technically called "convergent questions,"...[otherwise known as]..."Guess What I'm Thinking" questions. Here are a few that will sound familiar:

-what is a noun?
-[what are the books of the Bible, in order?]

-What is the principal river in Uruguay?

-What is the definition of a nonrestrictive clause?

-What is the real meaning of this poem?

-How many sets of chromosomes do human beings have?

-Why did Brutus betray Caesar?


So, what students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants them to say. Constantly, they must try to supply "The Right Answer."...And since it is indisputably (if not publicly) recognized that the..."content" of such courses is rarely remembered beyond the last quiz (in which you are required to remember only 65% of what you were told), it is safe to say that just about the
only learning that occurs in classrooms is that which is communicated by the structure of the classroom itself.

What are these learnings?


Here are a few among many, none of which you will ever find officially listed among the aims of teachers [unless in a radical fundamentalist environment]:


-Passive acceptance is a more desirable response to ideas than active criticism.

-Discovering [or creating new] knowledge is beyond the power of students and is, in any case, none of their business.

-Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of unrelated "facts" is the goal of education.

-The voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgment.

-One's own ideas and those of one's classmates are inconsequential.

-Feelings are irrelevant in education.

-There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.

If you're hooked, you're in luck. You can buy Teaching as a Subversive Activity here. Or you can download it for free as a pdf here.

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