NUMBER 567 • 11 AUGUST • EDUCATION
One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of ‘crap’. Our intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish and suffering of men who tried to help their contemporaries see that some part of their fondest beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions, superstitions and even outright lies. The mileposts along the road of our intellectual development signal those points at which some person developed a new perspective, a new meaning, or a new metaphor. We have in mind a new education that would set out to cultivate just such people —experts at ‘crap detecting’.
There are many ways of describing this function of the schools, and many men who have. David Riesman, for example, calls this the ‘counter-cyclical’ approach to education, meaning that schools should stress values that are not stressed by other major institutions in the culture. Norbert Wiener insisted that the school, now must function as ‘anti-entropic feedback systems’, ‘entropy’ being the word used to denote a general and unmistakable tendency of all systems — natural and man-made — in the universe to ‘run down’, to reduce to chaos and uselessness. This is a process that cannot be reversed but that can be slowed down and partly controlled. One way to control it is through maintenance. This is Eric Holler’s term, and he believes that the quality of maintenance is one of the best indices of the quality of life in a culture. But Wiener uses a different metaphor to get at the same idea. He says that in order for there to be an anti-entropic force, we must have adequate feedback. In other words, we must have instruments to tell us when we are running down, when maintenance is required. For Wiener, such instruments would be people who have been educated to recognize change, to be sensitive to problems caused by change, and who have the motivation and courage to sound alarms when entropy accelerates to a dangerous degree. This is what we mean by ‘crap detecting’. It is also what John Gardner means by the ‘ever-renewing society’, and what Kenneth Boulding means by ‘social self-consciousness’, We are talking about the schools cultivating in the young that most ‘subversive’ intellectual instrument — the anthropological perspective. This perspective allows one to be part of his own culture and, at the same time, to be out of it. One views the activities of his own group as would an anthropologist, observing its tribal rituals its fears, its conceits, its ethnocentrism. In this way, one is able to recognize when reality begins to drift too far away from the grasp of the tribe.
NEIL POSTMAN & CHARLES WEINGARTNER
Postman, N., Weingartner, C. (1969). Teaching as a subversive activity. England: Penguin Education. pp16-17