Sunday, November 6, 2016

What is the ULTIMATE GOAL of this blog / ongoing online conference? (1) to get more people to read TAASA? (2) to get more students to see the Postman Questions? (3) to get teachers to ask students, "What do you want to learn today? What do you want to talk about? What do you want to discuss?"

The core of Neil Postman's book, TAASA, is summed by Dr. Svein Østerud's 2005 essay (which focused on Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death."  
 The challenge to the students is to find out who has produced these facts, how he arrived at them, why they are regarded as important, and by whom. Only through this kind of scrutiny will the students learn how facts and truth change, depending on the circumstances under which they were produced and described.

The purpose of this post is to persuade teachers to download the Postman Questions and put those questions in front of students.  Reading Postman's work is nice, leaving comments here is delightful, but the ULTIMATE REASON for writing these words is to persuade you to do what I can't do for you:  DOWNLOAD THE QUESTIONS and put the QUESTIONS IN FRONT OF STUDENTS.   That act is subversive.  Here's why....

The Wikipedia article is certainly a start in providing a checklist for teachers and students.  "What is supposed to be happening in school?  What should I see in my classroom?"   Students can call the space "my classroom," and teachers can certainly call the space "my classroom."   That suggests that all of the people in the classroom have the responsibility to ask the questions that Postman asks.

The purpose of this blog/online ongoing conference appears to be to get "more people to read TAASA."
After all, wouldn't just reading the book transform us?

The change in me didn't happen that way.
First, I had to become a teacher.   In 2001 I started substitute teaching in Broward Public Schools.   

Second, I attended a "professional development" class that taught us "how to engage students in active learning."  Donna Elrad led the course and introduced me to the idea of "parking a question" on a wall.  This suggests that students have a role in building the class by putting a post-it note on a wall with a question that is answered later in the class.  

Third, I decided to create a method of teaching called "visual and active teaching" and I built a website   My method was making math VISUAL and I asked my students to become ACTIVE in their learning.  I wanted other teachers to know how I got the results (a student told me, "You screwed me!  You should have been teaching 7th grade math so then I would have understood math four years ago!  I failed math and ended up here because you didn't teach me back then.  Now I get it, but I didn't get it back then.  I needed to see the math and then use it.  Why are you teaching in this sh&%$#thole school?")  So I wanted to explain to principals how I changed the procedures in the classroom.  I interviewed Dennis Yuzenas about how he makes learning active in his class and he told me to read TAASA.

Fourth, in 2004 I applied to DATA (Downtown Academy for Technology and the Arts) and the leader, Ron Renna, asked me if I considered myself to be a sage on the state or a guide on the side.  Oooh, that's a good one.  I immediately vowed to make a website called  My Facebook page is  The book "Let's Lecture Less" is at

Fifth, I heard on April 25, 2005 the NPR broadcast interview of Dennis Littky.  Go ahead, listen.  See if you want to remain a teacher.  I decided that I needed to become an advisor (the name for teachers at Big Picture Schools) and a facilitator. Sixth, I wanted to see how to put Littky's work to use.  So I read his book and started blogging about his methods.  I visited Frida Kahlo School in Los Angeles and met Enrique Gonzalez, who described the work of a Big Picture advisor.
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Seventh, I decided to hire someone to translate the book BigPicture into Spanish.  What is the ultimate gift to a fellow teacher?  I needed to show the book that pushed me over the edge.  Big Picture transformed me so that I would be open to the idea of "how do we get the Postman Questions in front of kids?"   That's when I created the PDF with more than 40 questions on worksheets.  The single innovation is putting one question on each sheet and printing those sheets.  The method is PRINT, DISTRIBUTE and WAIT for students to reply.

The Story of "What can happen after you distribute the Postman Questions"
Mario Llorente put that procedure into practice.  He distributed the sheets as part of his Spanish class and students replied in Spanish to many of the exercises.  He made the classwork real.  That's when a kid told him (and apparently told people in administration) "I've learned more in one week with Mr. Mario than I learned all of last year."

Not a good sign.  The students also took time in class to write letters to the administration and they asked for shorter lines at lunch time, more bathrooms and flexibility with the uniform.  Ugh.  There was a meeting with Mario and he was told not to return.   There are over 95 students in a school in Miami who were exposed to the Postman Questions.   

ACTION:  Yes, reader, you can become an active learner by: 
DOWNLOADING the Postman Questions
DISTRIBUTING the sheets to students
COLLECTING THE WORK that the student produce and
REPORT on the results.

No longer a teacher
I'm also not much use as a deliverer of "required procedures."
In 2014 I was in a principal's office, listening to the principal say, "We use APEX and we help students get through high school by creating a safe working environment."  A loud interior voice started murmuring, "What do  you want to learn?" while the principal was talking.  I knew at that point that I would accept the job, but only to get the opportunity to show students the questions posed by Postman and Littky.

I have planned to write an end note to a book about "how to teach a language by using a mobile phone."   The core message of the book is not the procedures, but the mindset.  Yes, you can follow the teacher talk and the method described in the book and you might get the same results (students who say, "I've learned more in one week with you than I learned all last year").  But  the real difference comes when you are asked to show other teachers how you got those results.  Then you will be stuck.  "I read Mario's book" is certainly a way to get off this hook.  You can download the book from and then the burden is on the reader to figure out the steps.  Or you can admit that there must be something in the formation of Mario as a teacher that altered his relationship with students.  He stopped being a dictator and turned into a guide on the side.  He stopped being the distributor of information and instead became the permission giver.  "You can google it."   He stopped answering questions.  

Where did he learn that skill?  Not from Postman.  Mario will have to give you his "arc of development."  But you can learn that skill from Postman.  Go ahead, download the wiki article about "Inquiry Education."  Post the steps on the wall and see what happens in your classroom when you actually follow the procedure described by Postman.   


Inquiry education

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Inquiry education (sometimes known as the inquiry method) is a student-centered method of education focused on asking questions. Students are encouraged to ask questions which are meaningful to them, and which do not necessarily have easy answers; teachers are encouraged to avoid giving answers when this is possible, and in any case to avoid giving direct answers in favor of asking more questions. The method was advocated by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity.
The inquiry method is motivated by Postman and Weingartner's recognition that good learners and sound reasoners center their attention and activity on the dynamic process of inquiry itself, not merely on the end product of static knowledge. They write that certain characteristics are common to all good learners (Postman and Weingartner, 31–33), saying that all good learners have:
  • Self-confidence in their learning ability
  • Pleasure in problem solving
  • A keen sense of relevance
  • Reliance on their own judgment over other people's or society's
  • No fear of being wrong
  • No haste in answering
  • Flexibility in point of view
  • Respect for facts, and the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion
  • No need for final answers to all questions, and comfort in not knowing an answer to difficult questions rather than settling for a simplistic answer
In an attempt to instill students with these qualities and behaviors, a teacher adhering to the inquiry method in pedagogy must behave very differently from a traditional teacher. Postman and Weingartner suggest that inquiry teachers have the following characteristics (pp. 34–37):
  • They avoid telling students what they "ought to know".
  • They talk to students mostly by questioning, and especially by asking divergent questions.
  • They do not accept short, simple answers to questions.
  • They encourage students to interact directly with one another, and avoid judging what is said in student interactions.
  • They do not summarize students' discussion.
  • They do not plan the exact direction of their lessons in advance, and allow it to develop in response to students' interests.
  • Their lessons pose problems to students.
  • They gauge their success by change in students' inquiry behaviors (with the above characteristics of "good learners" as a goal).

MAKE SURE YOU don't select Inquiry-based Education.

Here's a paragraph from that article:

Programs such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program can be criticized for their claims to be an inquiry based learning program.[citation needed] While there are different types of inquiry (as stated above) the rigid structure of this style of inquiry based learning program almost completely rules out any real inquiry based learning in the lower grades. Each "unit of inquiry" is given to the students, structured to guide them and does not allow students to choose the path or topic of their inquiry. Each unit is carefully planned to connect to the topics the students are required to be learning in school and does not leave room for open inquiry in topics that the students pick. Some may feel that until the inquiry learning process is open inquiry then it is not true inquiry based learning at all. Instead of opportunities to learn through open and student-led inquiry, the IB program is viewed by some to simply be an extra set of learning requirements for the students to complete.

So, the next step after downloading and reading the wiki article is to ask students to create posters.  

Finally, put the three questions on the wall.   See what happens.

What do you want to learn?
What do you want to talk about?
What do you want to discuss?

Write to me with your results.