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Mohamed Naiem, ENGL 213 / B, essay 01

Postman, Neil. “The Educationist as Painkiller.” The Neil Postman Information Page.
Joshua Sowin, n.d. Web. 13 sep. 2010.

In the ‘The Educationist as Painkiller,’ Postman argues that educationists should stop trying to
make students highly intelligent, and they should rather start to serve as’ painkillers’ to the
sickness of imbecility if they want to be respected and effective in their tasks.

In the first part of his essay, Postman noticed that academics show disrespect for
educationists, which sounds odd since the most renowned philosophers in history were
educationists. Plato, Rousseau, Locke, and others discussed extensively how learning occurs
and which methods are helpful to achieve it. Also, many great thinkers of the contemporary
time, such as Karl Popper or Ludwig Wittgenstein, were teachers and educationists. Why
then, in the USA, is this disrespect of education so omnipresent that students avoid studying
in the education field? You may think that studying in other subjects enables student to get
financially rewarding jobs, yet this is not true for many other subjects widely chosen by

As academics claim, the reason why education is perceived in this poor way is that
educationists these days don’t have a solid knowledge of the work of the great philosophers,
such as Plato, Rousseau, and Locke. However not all professors in other fields are
knowledgeable about the work of the prominent thinkers in their own fields. In fact,
educationists, like other scientists, show certain ignorance about the core of the subject they
are in, yet only educationists’ ignorance is spotted and stigmatized. That’s because education
covers almost all kinds of eras; it deals with the way you can develop intelligence in many
disciplines. Then, for educationists, to be perfectly knowledgeable, they should be
unconventionally wise. That is why they should not claim having absolute knowledge of
intelligence and ways to gain it. Intelligence is far too vast to be understood only by education

To make a comparison, physicians don’t focus on how to make people reach ideal health
conditions, but they serve like “painkillers” to the sick and attack sicknesses.
So, as Postman details, educators should give up their pointlessly pretentious effort to make
students highly smart; they should only assist them in not being dull. The writer may appear
to be using words cleverly, yet this usage is in no way deceiving. In fact, helping students not
to be dull is a realistic and achievable goal for “teachers.” To give additional details about
comparing teachers to “doctors”, the latter are “experts” on illnesses and can provide precise
instructions to prevent them, such as taking some particular medications. In the same way,
educators should become experts on imbecility and prescribe effective actions against it (4).

Imbecility, Postman claims, comparatively to illness and ‘injustice’, has never been a subject
of a thorough and effective academic work. Nevertheless, it was the focus of some
distinguished works in the past. Confucius and Plato did ponder the question of imbecility in their
books the ‘Analects’ and the ‘Dialogues’ respectively. As another example, Socrates demonstrated in
most of his works how wrong those who pretended to be scholars were as to the knowledge of the
truth. Other thinkers, such as Erasmus, Jonathan Swift, Jacques Ellul, and Stephen Jay Gould also
discussed the “subject” of imbecility. They all agree upon three characteristics of it. First, every one
may be imbecile, and the absolute wisdom is granted to no one, which may provide some consolation
to educators (Postman 4-5). Second, imbecility is a 'behavior' (mostly talks), not a state. So we
can fix it if we reform our conduct. Therefore, the curricula should focus on recognizing
imbecility to protect students from it. In this light, Postman has identified some of its forms.

I do not claim to have been entirely successful, but I have been able to isolate
thirty-two varieties of stupid talk. These include some of the more obvious forms, such
as either-or thinking; overgeneralization; inability to distinguish between facts and
inferences; and reification, a disturbingly prevalent tendency to confuse words with
things. (Postman 6)

Then in the second part, the writer discusses some forms of ‘balderdash”, a word he prefers to
use instead of stupidity to make it less embarrassing for educationists who work on the subject
of stupidity. First, he explains how pomposity, which consists of talking arrogantly, may
make students act in a careless way. Second, he points out that euphemism, an excessive and
unnecessary politeness, may be a misleading way to cover wrongness. For instance, President
Nixon once declared that “members of his campaign organization were guilty of an excess of
zeal. This was the first time . . . the word “zeal” has been used as a euphemism for illegal
entry, stealing, briber” (Postman 7). Euphemism then should not be used to normalize
dishonest practices. Third, he adds that another widely held practice is the usage of the word’
they’ to refer to presumed doers of actions, which makes individuals unaccountable for
anything that happens to them. Fourth, he notices that 'superstitions' may convey false
assumptions. Superstition consists of believing that some groups, by nature, are better than
others, or that a tendency to study humanities can make students good people. In this specific
matter, Postman asserts that “men with Ph.D.s in the humanities . . . working for the
Pentagon, have been responsible for killing more people in any given week than the Mafia has
managed since its inception (Postman 9). Finally, Postman claims that slogans, which are
intended to prompt solidarity, may also transmit the message that only certain groups deserve
more attention and care than the rest of society.

In conclusion, in his essay, Postman notices the low esteem reserved to education and
educationists by academics. This disrespect is hard to explain since the most influential
thinkers in human history, such as Plato, Locke, or Popper, were themselves educationists.
Academics argue that the reason why education is not respectfully considered is that
educators ignore much about education, their own speciality. However, this argument can’t
stand; professors in other areas are not perfect scholars regarding their areas. The right reason,
according to Postman, is that educators have assigned themselves an unreachable goal: to
make students intelligent. Intelligence is much too complex to be fully understood. In the
same way that doctors attack illnesses, Postman recommends that educators should focus on
how to enable students to avert imbecility in all its facets, such as a pomposity, a deceptive
euphemism, a refusal of accountability, or slogans that promote discrimination.