Learning to Balance Education with Postman and Crawford

Educators should revisit Neil Postman’s arguments about education on a regular basis to help us gain sanity and perspective:

"Education is best conceived of as a thermostatic activity. From this point of view, and stated far too grossly, education tries to conserve tradition when the rest of the environment is innovative. Or it is innovative when the rest of society is tradition-bound [....] The function of education is always to offer the counterargument, the other side of the picture. The thermostatic view of education is, then, not ideology-centered. It is balance-centered." --Teaching as a Conserving Activity. 

From politics to pedagogy to public conflicts and to personal life, I am exceedingly grateful for Postman’s wisdom in his 1979 book on Teaching as a Conserving Activity. He explains his thermostatic development in writing the book as a much-needed balance to his previous Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Such a thermostatic focus seems essential for personal and public long-term flourishing.

I suddenly found myself surrounded by much-needed reminders to refocus on balance as I’ve dragged some degree of COVID chaos into my mindset this summer. Countless cultural conflicts have also influenced part of that chaos, along with hardy sides of self-doubt and disorientation.

Thankfully, I’m getting many reminders about balance from the philosophical motor-headed Matthew Crawford (especially in Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road, which I’m about halfway through) and other thoughtful folks. But, even more than work-life balance, we need philosophical/spiritual-and-material balance, along with a host of other thermostatic considerations.

Rereading Postman, I hear echoes of many insightful liberal arts thinkers. I also get clues for the sort of personal filters that I need to help me be more mentally, spiritually, and socially healthy in the upcoming years. For example, improvising from his thermostatic theme, I see times I am much too cold towards others and need to turn up the warmth, and I see times when I am way too hot-headed and need to cool down so that I can more gently engage with others.

After driving (& listening to Crawford and others via audiobooks) to visit family in Georgia and being a bit too sedentary, it’s been a week here in Colorado of getting outside and working on some house maintenance projects. Another version of the thermostatic theme at play. I’m pondering many more connections to books, people, spirituality, history, culture, education, political life, ethics, and philosophy, but all this will have to suffice for now: balance time…

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