Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Subversive teaching: Homeschool by another name?

In a previous post, I discussed one of Neil Postman’s (1982) most contraversial books, The Disappearance of Childhood. In it, he argued that schools and childhood were invented at the same time as both were born from a need to ‘educate’ children into adult life. In most of his books, Postman was critical of school learning. He argued that schools were problematic because

lineal, mechanistic, input- output, ABCED-minded metaphors have been found to be increasingly unsatisfactory in our electronic age. Even professional educators, who are generally the last people to recognize the obsolescence of their own assumptions, have discovered this.

(Postman & Weingartner, 1969, p. 30)

While Postman never explicitly advocated homeschooling, he advocated for inquiry based education (cf. Postman & Weingartner, 1969) which he described as the activity of good learners. Rather than a focus on knowledge itself, something that is constructed as static when it is, in fact, open to change and growth, he argues for a focus on the process of learning (cf. Postman & Weingartner, 1969).

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. Where the older school environment has asked, ‘Who discovered America?’ the inquiry method asks, ‘How do you discover who discovered America?’ The older school environments stressed that learning is being told what happened. The inquiry environment stresses that learning is a happening in itself.

Isn’t this the homeschool model of education? When children are left to learn alone, as advocated by John Holt (cf. 1964, 1967, 1989), aren’t they engaging with inquiry approaches to education? Postman and Weingartner (1969) further argue that good learners can be characterised as having nine discreet traits. These traits are:

  1. Confidence in their ability to learn.
  2. An enjoyment solving problems.
  3. A knowledge of what is relevant to them and their survival.
  4. A reliance on their own judgement.
  5. No fear of being wrong.
  6. Take their time to answer questions, believing there’s no gain to rushing in.
  7. Are able to see that answers can change, depending on the situation.
  8. A respect for the tenuous nature of facts, and are able to make distinctions between facts and opinions.

And, finally,

[Good] learners do not need to have an absolute, final, irrevocable resolution to every problem. The sentence, ‘I don’t know’, does not depress than, and they certainly prefer it to the various forms of semantic nonsense that pass for answers to questions that do not as yet have any solution – or may never have one.

(Postman & Weingartner, 1969, p. 31)

Doesn’t this look like natural learning under another name?


3 Responses to “Subversive teaching: Homeschool by another name?”

  1. Anon

    Hidden traits? Really? You don’t perhaps mean to say the have discrete traits (separate, defined)?


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