Despite the efforts by institutions, administration, and teachers in providing differential support and instructions, students are becoming less and less engaged in schools.
As an educator with an interest in student engagement, I have found myself reading Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) from a completely different lens.
The Medium is the Metaphor
Postman opens the discussion in his book with ‘The Medium is the Metaphor’. A metaphor, like language “makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a few orientations for thought, for expression, for sensibility”.
Hence the screen, as a medium, orients one’s thinking in a specific direction; in fact, it is a shift in paradigm and in the way of thinking. Each medium has a specific way of discourse; it encourages certain uses of intellect and demands a certain kind of content.
For example, the printing press requires a prolonged exertion of the mind and the body for one to become a good reader. With an electronic medium, on the other hand, most minds can grasp the message without any mental strain. The audience exposed to the print-medium is noticeably different than those audiences exposed to the electronic-medium.
“The decline of a print-based epistemology and accompanying rise of a television-based epistemology has had grave consequences for public life, that we are getting sillier by the minute.”
Today, silliness is very cool; this is reflective within and moreover, indicative of our television shows.
The Screen as Curriculum
Postman calls the screen a curriculum; he defines curriculum as:
“a specially constructed information system whose purpose is to influence, teach, train or cultivate the mind and character of youth”
With the capturing images of television, and its respective entertaining approach, the TV curriculum has become a monopoly over every school curriculum. This is emphasized where Postman says “it damn near obliterates it [school curriculum]”.
Perhaps individuals are less engaged in a classroom setting because they have adapted a learning style that matches the “teaching” style of the electronic medium. If a teacher is not an electronic instructor exhibiting multiple images a minute with background music, then he/she is not matching or living up to the required learning style of the student.
Provide students with computers and most will sit for hours displaying no signs of displeasure or boredom. Present those very students with books or other non-screen related activity, and disengagement in many forms will ensue.
The Race to Digital
Recently, I have seen a trend in Islamic schools in shifting their pedagogies from a print-medium to an electronic medium. Granted, this is a practice adopted by the public school systems to engage students, however research is showing that students are becoming more and more restless as they are becoming increasingly exposed to the electronic media.
Allah, the Exalted, selected the clause “read, in the name of your Lord” to be the very first human encounter with Islam.
- Is the word ‘read’ symbolic for any means of education?
- Is there a significant difference between the print-medium over other mediums?
- Can we weigh the skills a student acquires with the exposure to and interaction with electronic-medium against the skills acquired through print-medium?
I am not calling for the eradication of the electronic-medium, but I am offering a cautionary warning when using such media extensively in our schools.
I look forward to your thoughts on the extent to which the overuse of media forms are prevalent in your classrooms and the impact and implications of them. Please share your comments below.