Media and Culture
Unit written by Jordan Gutlerner and Mark Halpern
Introduction to Unit
Though Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death in 1985 about television, a medium whose power has been diminished since the advent of the internet, like a great novel, its core ideas are still relevant. One of those ideas is that the more the logical typographic mind of the 1800's morphs into a mind craving trivia, distraction, and entertainment, the further we move away from being a culture with the ability to engage in serious public discourse. While many teachers see a need to engage students through the use of this new media, we believe that now there is an urgency in holding fast to the idea that the classroom is a place where books need to be held sacred. Especially good books. Ones that make us think. Books like Postman’s. Of course, it is also essential to teach students media literacy. That is, to teach them how the media they use affects their perception of the world, of themselves, even of, or especially of, truth itself. Postman makes a strong argument that books are still and will always be the best way to do that, and so we have created this unit around it. Along the way, students will also develop their skills for evaluating arguments and for taking a critical eye to the ways that evidence is used to support these arguments. They will put these skills into practice as they learn to develop their own effective arguments. We also recognize that not every school has easy access to Amusing Ourselves to Death and we also must obey copyright laws, so we have created a unit that can easily be taught without reading much of the book. The excerpts referred to in the lesson plans are available in a separate Resources packet for this unit. We believe these ideas are ever-soimportant and can be introduced without reading the book in its entirety. In the end though, we hope you can get your hands on it for your students, if not for any other reason than that the irony of teaching that books are sacred without using one would most likely leave Postman unamused, were he not already dead.
Unit Template Media and Culture Stage 1: Desired Outcomes Priority Standards: (number and description) 11.02. Analyze an authors unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence 11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.04. Evaluate if and how the author uses authoritative sources to establish credibility 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.11. Describe and evaluate the author’s tone 11.15.1 Develop a thesis that takes a knowledgeable position 11.15.3. Address counter arguments 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discus the purpose of media 11.18. Analyze persuasive and propaganda techniques in media
Understandings: Students will understand that…
Essential Questions: -If the medium is the metaphor, then how are our current dominant media metaphors for us? -How is media epistemology? -In other words, how does a culture’s dominant media affect its perception of and definition of truth? -How does a culture’s dominant media affect what it values as important? -If different cultures have different ideas of truth, does this mean truth is relative? -If not, then what cultures have a better chance of maintaining serious public discourse? -Is our culture less informed now than it was during the Typographic Era? -Why is it important to understand and be able to detect disinformation? -Why should we ask critical questions about media and culture? -Once one begins to ask critical questions of media and culture is it an obligation to teach others how to do so?
-A medium is any tool with which we can communicate. -Different cultures have had different dominant media. -The dominant media becomes a metaphor for the culture. -The dominant media affects a culture’s epistemological approach to information.
Students will know: the structure and importance of compare/contrast model the main points of media and culture that Postman and others put forward
Students will be able to: understand and evaluate ideas about the media and culture. demonstrate this knowledge by teaching others these ideas. compare how different media inform about the same important topic.
Stage 2: Assessment Evidence Culminating Assessment
(learning task) quizzes personal writing media journal
Students will write an argumentative critical essay in which they synthesize some of the ideas from this unit and put forward an idea about the role of media in our lives and in our culture.
Stage 3: Learning Plan – Media and Culture Activity Title
Lesson #1: Essential Questions
11.02. Analyze an authors unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence 11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.02. Analyze an authors unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence 11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media
Lesson #2: PreAssessment
Lesson #3: The Medium is the Metaphor Lesson #4: New Ascendancies
Lesson #5 Using the Toulmin Model
Lesson #6: All Media are not Equal Lesson #7: Reading vs. Watching Lesson #8: a little Something about Structure Lesson #9: Common Sense Lesson #10: A Tale of Two Political Debates
11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.15.1 Develop a thesis that takes a knowledgeable position 11.15.3. Address counter arguments 11.02. Analyze an authors unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence 11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose
11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.13.3 Use organizational structures
11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.11. Describe and evaluate the author’s tone 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discus the purpose of media 11.18. Analyze persuasive and propaganda techniques in media
Activity Title Lesson #11: Decontextualized Information Lesson#12: Evaluating Tone Lesson #13; Amusing Ourselves with a Mid-unit Breather Lesson #14: A Thousand Words Lesson #15: Entertain Us
Lesson #16: Disinform Us Lesson #17: Breaking the Spell Culminating Assessment: Writing the Word
Lesson #18: Spreading the Word Lesson # 19 Unit Reflection Student Sample Additional lesson: Television As Art
11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media
11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.11. Describe and evaluate the author’s tone 11.03. Draw conclusions about the author’s purpose 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.15.1 Develop a thesis that takes a knowledgeable position 11.15.3. Address counter arguments 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.11. Describe and evaluate the author’s tone 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discus the purpose of media 11.18. Analyze persuasive and propaganda techniques in media 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discus the purpose of media 11.02. Analyze an authors unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence 11.05. Evaluate an author’s argument 11.07. Use textual evidence to develop and support an interpretation 11.15.1 Develop a thesis that takes a knowledgeable position 11.15.3. Address counter arguments 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purpose of media
11.15.1 Develop a thesis that takes a knowledgeable position 11.15.3. Address counter arguments 11.17. Identify, analyze, and discus the purpose of media
11.17. Identify, analyze, and discus the purpose of media 11.18. Analyze persuasive/propaganda techniques in media
Excerpts from Amusing Ourselves to Death and teacher notes are found in resources packet.
Academic Vocabulary The vocabulary used extensively in this unit:
media metaphor culture theme argument persuasion medium discourse disinformation analysis sentence structure language imagery diction details warrant claim thesis support rebuttal refutation
Lesson #1: Essential Questions Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: 11.03 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will be introduced to the most essential questions of the unit and will be able to preview the text Amusing Ourselves to Death Materials needed:
Handouts on media/book quiz, media glossary, Amazon review Instructions on how to lead a Socratic Seminar: http://www.studyguide.org/socratic_seminar.htm *Steps/Procedures:
1. Ask students to complete the media and reading quizzes. The point of the quizzes is not (necessarily) for students to recognize that they spend A LOT of time with the media (though they may realize this); instead, the goal is to illustrate some of the striking differences between the mediums. Discuss the results as a class. You may want to ask students to keep a “media journal” for the duration of this unit in which they track their media usage: time spent with TV, Internet, radio, newspapers, etc. 2. Ask students to try to write definitions of the terms: “media,” “mass media,” “audience,” “deconstruct,” “medium,” and others you think might be important to begin with. Then, hand out the Media Literacy glossary and ask students to compare their definitions with those from the glossary. Have students spend a few minutes with the glossary, highlighting words and phrases with which they are unfamiliar and discussing with a partner. Source of glossary: Mediacy, the newsletter of Ontario's Association for Media Literacy, Volume 16, Number 3, Summer 1994. 3. Let students know that throughout this unit they will be reading excerpts from Amusing Ourselves to Death. If possible, project the picture from the book cover that also appears on the cover of this unit guide. Ask students to predict what they think the book will be about based on the tile (and subtitle) and the cover art. Then, share the short review. 4. Last, hold a silent discussion by posting the following statements that Postman will be addressing in the book on separate pieces of chart paper that you can post around the classroom. The students might have a lot or a little to say on the topics, but let them write what comes to mind, even if it’s “I have no idea what this means.” You may want to follow this silent discussion up with a Socratic Seminar on the topic that seemed to generate the most interest. The topics can include: Political discussion in America has changed vastly throughout the years due to a change in the dominant media. There is a difference between how an event is represented through television and reading. Photographs cannot express ideas. Because the dominant media of our age have a tendency towards entertainment, some things formerly held sacred have been made trivial. Disinformation gives us the false sense of knowing important things and actually prevents
us from doing so.
Media Quiz Answer yes or no 1. Does your family have more than one TV set? ____ 2. Are you in front of a screen for more than 2 hours per day? ____ 4. Is there a TV/video game/computer playing in your home much/all of the time? ____ 5. Do you have a TV, video game, and/or computer in your bedroom? ____ 6. Is it easy for you to turn it off in the middle of a favorite show/game? ____ 7. Do you ever rush home, ditching friends and family, to catch a favorite TV show, play video games, or go on the computer? ____ 8. Do you frequently eat meals while in front of the TV, video games, or computer? ____ 9. Do you talk to and play with your friends more than you watch TV, play games, and play with computers? ____ 10. Can you turn off the TV, computer, and video games OFF right now and leave them off for three days? ____ 11. Do you ever mindlessly surf through TV channels or the internet? ____ 12. Do you need TV, video game, or a computer to relax after a rough day? ____ 13. Do you feel edgy, anxious, or "not right" if there is no TV, video game, or a computer playing? ____ 14. Do you watch TV, play video games, and/or play on the computer more than spend time with your family? ____ 15. Do you ever watch the TV, play video games, or surf the internet longer than you intend to? ____ 16. Do you feel spend too much time with TV, video games, or computer? ____ 17. Have you missed a special event with friends or family because you were watching a TV program? ____ 18. Have you ever tried to quit watching TV, playing video games, or going on computer, but were unsuccessful? ____
19. Do you have difficulty limiting the time you spend with the media? ____
Reading Quiz Answer yes or no 1. Does your family have more than 200 hundred books? ____ 2. Are you in front of a book for more than 2 hours per day? ____ 4. Are there people reading in your home much/all of the time? ____ 5. Do you have a book in your bedroom? ____ 6. Is it easy for you to stop reading in the middle of a book? ____ 7. Do you ever rush home, ditching friends and family, to get into a book? ____ 8. Do you frequently eat meals while reading? ____ 9. Do you talk to and play with your friends more than you read books? ____ 10. Can you stop reading books right now for three days? ____ 11. Do you ever mindlessly read books? ____ 12. Do you need a book to relax after a rough day? ____ 13. Do you feel edgy, anxious, or "not right" if you are not reading a book? ____ 14. Do read books more than spend time with your family? ____ 15. Do you read books longer than you intend to? ____ 16. Do you feel spend too much time with books? ____ 17. Have you missed a special event with friends or family because you were reading a book? ____ 18. Have you ever tried to quit reading books, but were unsuccessful? ____ 19. Do you have difficulty limiting the time you spend reading books? ____
Media Terminology Glossary Audience: The group of consumers for whom the media text was constructed as well as anyone else who is exposed to the text. Connotation: A description of value, meaning or ideology associated with a media text. Construct or Construction: As a verb, the process by which a media text is shaped and given meaning. This process is subject to a variety of decisions and is designed to keep the audience interested in the text. As a noun, a fictional or documentary text that appears to be "natural" or a "reflection of reality" but is, in fact, shaped and given meaning through the process already described. Critical: A reflective position on the meaning, biases or value messages of a text. Critical Viewing is the ability to use critical thinking skills to view, question, analyze and understand issues presented overtly and covertly in movies, videos, television and other visual media. Deconstruct: To take apart, analyze, or break down a media text into its component parts in order to understand how and why it was created. Demographics: Recognizable characteristics of media consumers such as age, gender, education and income level. Denotation: A description of a media text indicating its common sense, obvious meaning. Docudrama: A filmed dramatization based on fact that combines documentary and fictional elements. In the production process, "based on" allows the creators of the text wide creative latitude. At its best, a docudrama can be a skillful representation of a real person or event. Genre: A category of media texts characterized by a particular style, form or content. Ideology: How we as individuals understand the world in which we live. This understanding involves an interaction between our individual psychology and the social structures that surround us. Mediating between these are the individual processes of communication, as well as the technological processes of the mass media. Industry: The agencies and institutions involved with the production of media texts. The term is also used in a more narrow sense to describe the commercial production of media texts for the purpose of making a profit. Jolts: Moments in a media text that are generated by a broad comedy, a violent act, movement within a frame, a loud noise, rapid editing, a profanity or a sexually explicit representation—all of
which are calculated to engage an audience's excitement. Mass Media: Media Education The process by which individuals learn the technical production skills associated with creating media texts. Traditionally, it has not included the intellectual processes of critical consumption or deconstruction; however, modern interpretations often include these processes. Media Literacy: The process of understanding and using the mass media in an assertive and nonpassive way. This includes an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the media, the techniques used by them and the impact of these techniques. Medium: The singular form of "media." This term usually describes individual forms such as radio, television, film etc. Media: The plural form of "medium." This term has come to mean all the industrial forms of mass communication combined. Narrative: The telling of a plot or story. In a media text, narrative is the coherent sequencing of events across time and space. Negotiate: The process by which members of the audience individually or collectively interpret, deconstruct and find meaning within a media text. Oppositional: A critical position that is in opposition to the values and ideology intended by the creators of a media text. Production: The industrial process of creating media texts as well as the people who are engaged in this process. Production Values: Describes the quality of a media production—which is generally proportional to the money and technology expended on it. Psychographics: A more sophisticated form of demographics that includes information about the psychological and sociological characteristics of media consumers, such as attitudes, values, emotional responses and ideological beliefs. Representation: The process by which a constructed media text stands for, symbolizes, describes or represents people, places, events or ideas that are real and have an existence outside the text. Technology: The machinery, tools and materials required to produce a media text. In media literacy terms, technology greatly impacts upon the construction and connotation of a text. Text: The individual results of media production: a movie, a TV episode, a book, an issue of a magazine or newspaper, an advertisement, an album, a CD, etc.
Review of Amusing Ourselves to Death (from Amazon) From the author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity comes a sustained, withering and thought-provoking attack on television and what it is doing to us. Postman's theme is the decline of the printed word and the ascendancy of the "tube" with its tendency to present everything murder, mayhem, politics, weather as entertainment. The ultimate effect, as Postman sees it, is the shriveling of public discourse as TV degrades our conception of what constitutes news, political debate, art, even religious thought. Early chapters trace America's one-time love affair with the printed word, from colonial pamphlets to the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. There's a biting analysis of TV commercials as a form of "instant therapy" based on the assumption that human problems are easily solvable. Postman goes further than other critics in demonstrating that television represents a hostile attack on literate culture.
What are your personal feelings about the topics this book will be addressing: 1. Television in general:
2. TV news:
3. TV commercials:
4. TV presenting everything as entertainment:
Lesson #2: Pre-Assessment for Media and Culture Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: 11.15, 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will read a short excerpt from Amusing Ourselves to Death and summarize and evaluate the author’s argument.
copies of the prompt and the text Steps/Procedures:
1. Be sure to begin by telling students that because this is “pre-assessment,” they are not expected necessarily to do well; its purpose is to give them and you a sense of where they currently are in regards to identified priority standards. 2. Let students read (and mark up) the passage from Amusing Ourselves to Death. 3. Students should respond to the questions about the author’s argument. 4. Score the assessment with feedback. 5. Be sure that when you return the assessment, students have an opportunity to reflect on their current abilities with the standard.
From Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman Page 1 of excerpt
Page 2 of excerpt
Page 3 of excerpt
Page 4 of excerpt
Page 5 of excerpt
Page 6 of excerpt
Page 7 of excerpt
Page 8 of excerpt
Pre-Assessment Media and Culture After you have read the passage, respond to the following questions in complete sentences on separate paper. Use specific examples from the text to support your ideas. 1. In no more than two sentences, what do you think is the author’s main thesis in this section? 2. What are the pieces of evidence that the author includes to support the thesis? 3. How effective is the author’s argument? In other words, did the author convince you or not? Be specific with the evidence the author included (or did not include).
4. What would you say are the most important functions of the media? Explain. 5. On a scale of 1-10 (with “1” being very easy and “10” being unbelievably difficult), how would rate your reading of this section of the text. Explain your choice of numbers.
Scoring Guide Pre-Assessment Priority Standard
Exceeds (6-5) The response 11.03 Draw conclusions about the skillfully and author’s purpose, basic concisely identifies beliefs, perspectives, the author’s stated and philosophical and/or unstated thesis assumptions. from the passage
Meets (4-3) The response identifies a plausible thesis from the passage
Does Not Yet Meet (2-1) The response has not identified a reasonably accurate thesis from the passage
The response includes a thorough and insightful critique of the author’s argument, including identifying what evidence in the passage was effective or ineffective.
The response includes an identification of the evidence that the author uses in the passage, though the evaluation of that evidence might be somewhat limited.
The response includes little reflection on the type and quality of evidence that the author uses to support the argument.
The response includes several appropriate, effective, and specific references to the text of the passage. The response is fully supported with examples. The response shows a deep and sophisticated awareness of the role of media and their purposes.
The response has included references to the text of the passage. An attempt has been made to support with examples.
The response includes few or any specific references to the text of the passage. The response is not well supported.
The response demonstrates some background knowledge with media and their purposes.
At this point, the response shows little knowledge of the media and their purposes.
11.02. Analyze an
author’s unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence that supports those unstated ideas.
11.05 Evaluate an
author’s argument. Questions #2 and #3
11.07. Use textual evidence to develop/ support an interpretation Questions #2, #3, #4
11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purposes of media Question #4
After your pre-assessment has been returned by your teacher think about: 1. What do you think you are doing well so far?
2. What are you going to focus on improving?
Lesson #3: The Medium is the Metaphor Duration: 90 minutes Priority standards: 11.03, 11.11, 11.13, 11.15, 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will have small group discussions and then a class discussion in order to understand Postman’s idea that “the medium is the metaphor.” If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter one. Materials needed: Paper, pencils
Photocopies of pages 9-12 or Amusing Ourselves to Death. *Steps/Procedures:
1. Read pages 9-12 from the book and discuss. Focus especially on clocks and the alphabet as examples of the idea that the medium is the metaphor. Tell your students they will have to come up with similar ideas for assigned media. 2. Assign students to the following groups: radio internet camera cell phones television 3. Read and briefly explain this quotation from chapter one: “[O]ur media metaphors classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, color it, argue a case for what the world is like”(10). 4. As a group, develop a list of ways in which your particular medium does the things Postman lists in the quotation. Give specific examples from the real world in order to prove each claim. 5. Have groups share out and discuss as a class. List agreed upon examples on the board. 6. Discuss how these examples help us understand the idea that the “medium is the metaphor.” 7. Re-read these pages from the book with an eye towards teaching your students about Postman’s tone. It is a combination of academic/analytical and wry humorous insight. 8. For homework, have your students write a paragraph in which they attempt to analyze as Postman does in a similar tone. Just as he did for the clock or the alphabet, students need to write a paragraph in which they choose any of the assigned media and explain what case the medium argues for what the world is like.
Lesson #4: New Ascendancies Duration: 90 minutes Priority standards: 11.03
Brief overview of lesson: Students will demonstrate understanding of the structure of Postman's argument by adding at least two examples to it bringing it current to twenty- first century media.
Materials needed: Copy of pages 6-8 of Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. Steps/Procedures: 1. The night before (or during class, if time and need requires) the lesson have students read pages 6-8 of Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death taking notes on important ideas. Ask them to be prepared to articulate Postman's central thesis. 2. Place students in groups of four to six. 3. Down the left side of the page have students list: smoke signals, William Howard Taft of 1908, The News of the Day and William Howard Taft in 21st century down the left side of the page. 4. Create three vertical columns running down the page labeled: Existent Media, Limits/Capabilities of Media in Portraying Reality, Effect on Humanities Understanding of Reality 5. Ask students, in their groups, to return to the text and discuss how to fill in the chart they have created. So, for instance, next to smoke signals the existent media would simply be the smoke signals themselves. The Limits/Capabilities of Media in Portraying Reality column will include things like only simple communications, warnings etc., complicated ideas could not be communicated, Native American philosophizing impossible etc. And the smoke signals effect on their civilization was that it kept them safe, allowed survival etc.. 6. Ask students to add at least one, and as many as three, new concept[s] or media to the list down the left side of the page and then proceed to fill out the columns for each. Students could add Facebook or instant messaging, or even just the internet and then fill out the columns for each.
Closure: Postman writes on page eight:
“The decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television …has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse”. Ask the students to use the charts they filled out in their groups to write an insightful reflection sheet on the following question: Has the ascendancy of the Age of the Internet effected us positively , negatively or both? Provide details to support your ideas.
Lesson #5: Using the Toulmin Model Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: 11.03
Brief overview of lesson: Students will begin to understand how an author develops an argument.
Materials needed: Previously-discussed sections Amusing Ourselves to Death. Toulmin model handouts Steps/Procedures: 1. Begin this lesson with a quickwrite and/or class discussion about the term “argument.” Ask students what this term means in a variety of contexts. How does one “win” an argument? Why would someone “lose” an argument? What does a written argument look like? 2. Next, introduce students one of the ideas of philosopher Stephen Toulmin who identified the key elements present in effective argumentation by reading the short piece and completing the chart below by summarizing each term and finding an example from something they have read so far in their reading of Postman’s work. 3. Then, ask student to complete the graphic organizer for ONE of the main arguments that Postman has put forward so far. 4. Last, as a class examine the effectiveness of Postman’s arguments so far based on the Toulmin model. For more information or resources on the Toulmin Model, see the following: 1. http://changingminds.org/disciplines/argument/making_argument/toulmin.htm 2. http://owlet.letu.edu/contenthtml/research/toulmin.html 3. from AP Central: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/EnglishLanguage_Writin gPersuasively.pdf
Terms in a Toulmin Argument Many writers of arguments look to terminology developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin to describe the elements of an argumentative essay. You can use these to check that your argument has all the key ingredients it needs to be successful. A claim (proposition, thesis): answers the questions "What point will your paper will try to make?" or "What belief or opinion is the author defending?" To be credible to an audience, claims must usually be supported with specific evidence. For instance, a writer may claim that "Standardized tests are biased against female and minority students." In a Toulmin argument, readers ask, "How do you know that is true?" or "What is that based on?" Such questions are challenging the writer to prove the claim with support. In order to defuse an audience’s potential challenges, some writers use qualifiers to clarify their claims and protect their credibility. Acknowledging that the claim may not be absolute protects them from proving that their claim is true in every case. Qualifiers are usually adverbs that modify the verb in the claim or adjectives that modify a key noun; some common ones are typically, usually, for the most part, some, several, few, and sometimes. Qualified versions of the first claim might be "Many standardized tests are biased against female and minority students" or "Standardized tests are sometimes biased against female and minority students." Either of these, because of the limiting qualifiers, are easier to prove than the unqualified claim. Support (evidence, backing) is the examples, facts and data that aid in proving the claim's validity. Depending on who your audience is, this evidence could also include emotional appeals, quotations from famous people or recognized experts, or statements based on the writer’s personal credibility. In the argument on test bias, readers might expect to see statistics that prove the test questions are biased, samples of misleading questions, quotations from educators and testing experts, and testimony from students who have taken such tests. All of these might be good kinds of support, depending on the identity of the audience. Underlying the claims in Toulmin arguments are warrants, the inferences or assumptions that are taken for granted by the writer (and sometimes by the argument). Warrants connect (conspicuously or inconspicuously) the claim and the support; they derive from our cultural experiences and personal observations. For instance, if over the last five years, girls at Madison High have received higher grades than boys in every subject and yet the Madison boys consistently score higher on the SAT than the girls do, someone might claim that the SAT was biased against girls. The warrant for this claim is the belief that something must be preventing the girls from showing their academic excellence on the SAT. Finally, a key point in Toulmin arguments is the concession, which brings differing opinions together by acknowledging a part of the opposing argument that cannot be refuted. Conceding that an opposing point is valid and then building upon it to further one's own claim allows a writer to make the audience feel appreciated without giving up 28
her or his own position. For instance, in the SAT argument, the writer might concede that other reasons, like test anxiety or fewer math courses, lower girls’ scores on the test, but go on to provide evidence that even when these factors are considered, the questions are written in such a way as to favor boys. If the writer can discredit the opposition’s counter-arguments by proving their logic is faulty, their support is weak or their warrants are invalid, he or she has created a rebuttal that supports his or her own original position and furthers his or her claim. Retrieved from: http://www2.winthrop.edu/wcenter/handoutsandlinks/toulmin.htm
In your own words, summarize the main elements of a Toulmin argument and give an example from the section of Postman that you have read:
Example from Postman
Lesson #6: All Media Are Not Equal Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will use different media in an attempt to state a proverb. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter one.
Materials needed: Playdough Paper, crayons, whiteboard, markers Steps/Procedures: 1. Divide students into six groups. Have one group go in the hallway and tell them they will be called in about ten minutes. Tell them when they return they will have five groups present one proverb to them using different media, and that they will have to guess the proverb. 2. Assign the following media to the remaining five groups: sculpture (using the playdough), drawing (using crayons and paper), interpretive dance (no charades allowed), music (using voice and rhythm, but no words allowed), and writing (using the whiteboard, none of the proverb’s words allowed, have them cover it up until their turn). 3. Go around and hand each group a slip with the following proverb written on it: “What is true is true, and it does not need decoration.” See list that follows for additional possible proverbs. Be sure to remind them of the rules written above. 4. Give the groups five to seven minutes with which to devise a way to use their medium in order to express the proverb to the sixth group. 5. Have the sixth group come in and have the five groups present the proverb in the order written for number two. Have them guess the proverb after each group presents. Chances are good they will not know it, but will come closest after the writing group goes. 6. Discuss the implications of this activity when you are finished. Use the following questions: What was is like to attempt to express an idea using your medium? What was it like trying to understand the idea through each medium? What does this all tell us about the effect of different media on our expression and understanding of ideas?
Famous Proverbs A bad cause requires many words.
German Proverb A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.
Arab Proverb A bird in the hand is worth two in a bush.
English Proverb A broken hand works, but not a broken heart.
Persian Proverb A clear conscience is a soft pillow.
German Proverb A close friend can become a close enemy.
Ethiopian Proverb A closed mouth catches no flies.
Italian Proverb A dog is wiser than a woman; it does not bark at its master.
Russian Proverb A drink precedes a story.
Irish Proverb A drowning man is not troubled by rain.
Persian Proverb A forest is in an acorn.
Proverb of Unknown Origin A friend in need is a friend indeed
English Proverb A friend's eye is a good mirror.
Irish Proverb A good denial, the best point in law.
Irish Proverb A good husband is healthy and absent.
Japanese Proverb A healthy man is a successful man.
French Proverb A hedge between keeps friendship green.
French Proverb A hen is heavy when carried far.
Irish Proverb A hound's food is in its legs.
Irish Proverb A house without a dog or a cat is the house of a scoundrel.
Portuguese Proverb 32
A hungry man is an angry man.
Lesson #7: Reading vs. Watching Duration: 100 minutes Priority standards: 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will compare experiencing President Obama’s first State of the Union through two media in order to discuss the effect different media have on our understanding of an event. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter two. Materials needed:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kYW_fgaDDM&feature=related (for viewing) http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/01/27/sotu.transcript/index.html (for reading) Steps/Procedures:
1. Print out and photocopy the first 21 minutes of Obama’s first State of the Union. Give it to half the class. Have them go in the hallway and tell them to read it in preparation for a quiz. Tell them to reread it if they have extra time. 2. Have the other half of the class stay and watch the first 21 minutes in preparation for the same quiz. 3. Have students take the quiz on the following page. Answers to the Quiz 1. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run, and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday, and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. 2. A second depression. 3. A storm. 4. 1 in 10 5. asking why they have to move from their home, asking when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work. 6. Bank bailout 7. 300 K 8. The Recovery Act 9. Use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. 10. The Lost Decade.
4. Have them self score them and hand them in. Figure out the averages for each. Discuss the implications? Even if there don’t seem to be, what would you say about the 33
differences in experiencing the speech? Is one way better for understanding the event? What is lost in each? What is gained in each? 5. A way to make this even better is to continue for the next 21 minutes, but have the groups switch. Then give them another quiz (they are easy to make up) and see if there are any more implications. At the very least, discuss the differences in each experience. Overall, what do students think is the best way for a concerned citizen to experience a President’s State of the Union?
Quiz on President Obama’s State of the Union Speech 1. Obama begins his speech by referring to a few past events in American history. Name one of them. 2. Obama mentions that his administration took action fast in response to experts’ warnings about what possiblity?
3. What metaphor does Obama use to describe the economic instability our country has been faced with?
4. How many Americans does Obama say still cannot find work?
5. Obama mentions two things about which children write him letters. Name one of them.
6. Fill in the blank... “And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hate the ______ ________.” 7. According to Obama, how many teachers and education workers are there in the USA.
8. What is the other name for stimulus bill.
9. What does Obama propose that we do with 30 billion dollars of the money Wall Street banks have repaid?
10. According to Obama, what do some call the decade of 2000-2009?
Lesson #8: a little something about structure Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: (numbers only) Brief overview of lesson: The lesson is simply meant to allow the students to see how Postman has structured a complicated argument. The hope is that they see: how his points build on each other, how the thesis is restated at certain points in the argument, and how the argument culminates in an insight that while not quite present at the start, was implied by the original thesis. In this way it is Socratic; inductive reasoning is used to take the reader to insight through the accumulation of small steps. In this lesson the student will chart the small steps to see the underpinnings of the argument. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter two. *Materials needed: Pages 18-24 of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death. “Structure Tracker” attachment. Key vocabulary: Socratic Method Inductive Reasoning Steps/Procedures: 1. Students read pages 18-24 of Postman’s book. 2. Students fill out structure tracker sheets and answer two final questions for homework that night. Closure: Teacher leads directed conversation on inductive reasoning showing students how the small steps in Postman’s piece lead to big ideas and questions. Strategies for TAG students: Students could be grouped flexibly with all TAG students working together. The lesson could be tiered; instead of having the TAG students answering the somewhat simple final question concerning structure, have them think, and write about a bigger question: How has a television-based epistemology changed our public life?
Structure Tracker Students chart information from the text to plot the structure of an argument. Postman’s initial thesis: “the bias of a medium sits heavy, felt but unseen, over a culture.” Postman provides three cases of truth telling to support this idea. Below are listed the cases. Describe next to each how the examples support his thesis.
1. Tribe in Western Africa a) Media presented
b) How does the media affect perceptions of truth?
c) How would the media of the tribe in Western Africa play out in our culture today? When might the media still be relevant today?
2. Truth telling in modern universities a) Different Media presented:
b) How does the media affect perceptions of truth?
c) Discuss the paradox of defending your thesis paper orally.
Socrates in Athens a) Conflict in media presented:
b) How does the media affect perceptions of truth (to somewhat tragic ends)?
Reflecting on the Argument As stated above, his original thesis is “the weight assigned to any truth telling is a function of the influence of media communication.” What other point(s) does this evidence lead to? What other conclusions can you draw?
Does Postman convince you of his thesis? How so or why not? How does the STRUCTURE of this affect you as a reader?
Lesson #9: Common Sense Duration: 90 minutes Priority standards: 11.05 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will compare widely read political writing from 1776 with some from recent times. The excerpts are from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, “Common Sense” and Glen Beck’s recent book, Common Sense. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter three.
Photocopies of the first page of each source Paine: http://www.thomaspaine.org/Archives/commonsense.html Beck: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Glenn-Beck%27s-CommonSense/Glenn-Beck/9780743599351/excerpt Fry Readability Graph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fry_Graph.png Steps/Procedures:
1. In a quickwrite: a. Ask students to define the term “readability.” What factors affect the readability of a text? b. Ask them to predict whether there are difference in readability of texts from various time periods. Why might the readability of texts change over time? What are some of the factors that might cause this? 2. Hand out the sheet with the short paragraph about Thomas Paine and Glen Beck and ask students to determine the readability of the paragraph by following the directions below the Fry Readability graph. The paragraph is exactly 100 hundred words. We suggest that you assign small groups to count sentences and syllables. Ask students to discuss whether this is an effective measure of readability. 3. Next, hand out the excerpts from the Beck and the Paine pieces and assign students to randomly select a 100-word passage from one of the pieces and determine its readability with the Fry chart. Which piece has the higher readability? 3. Next, students should read both pieces to determine whether the readability score seems accurate to them. Which piece is more challenging to read? What are the similarities and difference in structure of the pieces? Which piece supports its arguments more thoroughly? Explain. You may want to have students examine each with the Toulmin Model presented earlier in the unit. 4. Last, discuss the implications of these readability difference. Do the differences in Readability tell us anything about the changes in political discourse? Would anything like Paine’s “Common Sense” be so widely read today? What are the factors in the differences? Note: If you have computer access, you could have students determine readability with a much more complex online tool available for students to cut and paste available here: http://textalyser.net/
Common Sense handout Written in 1776 Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” sells over 100,000 copies. According to the US Bureau of Census, the US population was 2.5 million. The population in 2010 is approximately 308 million. Beck’s book has sold 1.1 million copies. This means nearly 4% of Americans read Paine’s “Common Sense,” whereas less than 0.4% of Americans have read Beck’s version. Of course there are many factors that go into this, but we are going to read and measure the readability of each in order to see if there are any implications. In fact, you are going to begin by measuring now.
This paragraph is exactly one hundred words.
Number of sentences: ___________ (2-25) Number of syllables: ____________ (108-172) Readability level: ________ (1-15)
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. WHEREFORE, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows, that whatever FORM thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others. In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest, they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labour out of the common period of life without accomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed; hunger in the mean time would urge him from his work, and every different want call him a different way. Disease, nay even misfortune would be death, for though neither might be mortal, yet either would disable him from living, and reduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to perish than to die. Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which, would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other; and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.
Glen Beck’s Common Sense I think I know who you are. After September 11, 2001, you thought our country had changed for the better. But the months that followed proved otherwise. We began to divide ourselves and the partisan bickering that had been absent from blood donor lines and church services started all over again. You sometimes argue with friends about politics, not because you are a political activist, but because you think the issues are actually important. You have strong beliefs, but you also have an open mind and a warm heart. You try to do the right thing every day. You work hard, you always try to do your best, and you play by the rules. You have credit cards, but you can make the payments. You have a home, but with a loan you can afford. Maybe you bought a flat-screen television that wasn't exactly a necessity, but you've never been reckless. You don't have much in savings and your retirement plans have lost a significant amount of money. You may go to church, but most weekends, you don't really want to -- you'd rather sleep in or play with your kids. Besides, it bothers you that people cut each other off in the parking lot right after the service. You have children and, like all families, you also have your share of problems -- but you're making it. You constantly hope that your kids don't notice you're bluffing as a parent most of the time. You feel like there's not enough time in the day anymore to just be a family. Everyone is always going in six different directions. You know material things don't matter, but you wonder why it makes you feel like a bad parent if your kids don't have certain shoes, the newest video games, or aren't signed up for five different sports teams. You didn't have anywhere near the kind of stuff that today's kids have and yet you look back on your childhood with a sense of nostalgia and pride. If your family was poor, you didn't know it. You turn on the television at the end of a long, tiring day and watch as endless analysts in left/right boxes argue about things done by bankers that, in retrospect, now seem implausible. You're worried about what's happening to our economy, but you're more
worried about what it means for your family -- and you're not sure what to do. You try to tune out the bickering by watching an entertainment show -- but there are times when you're uncomfortable watching them with your kids. You're not a prude, but you happen to think that a three-year-old shouldn't be watching shows that treat sex lightly and mock mothers and fathers. But what can you do? The other shows are worse. You've taught your children the difference between right and wrong, yet they come home with language and habits that they didn't learn from you. You're shocked to hear what they're learning in school -- but you don't make a fuss because they're the "professionals" and you don't want to be one of "those people" anyway. You don't cherish conflict; you just want everyone to get along. You don't hate people who are different than you, but you stopped expressing opinions on sensitive issues a long time ago because you don't want to be called a racist, bigot, or homophobe if you stand by your values and principles. You believe in treating people justly and honestly but there is a difference between right and wrong. You go to bed exhausted almost every night, knowing you have to get up the next day and do it all over again. You thought that the politicians you supported and defended cared about the issues you do. Then you began to realize that you were wrong -- they only care about themselves and their careers. You feel used and betrayed. You don't think it's right that while you worked hard, lived prudently, and spent wisely, those who did the opposite are now being bailed out at your expense. You realize now that self-serving politicians and bankers built our financial system on a house of cards that, despite the cheery promises and rosy forecasts, is now collapsing. Now our government, the instigator of our problems, is telling everyone that they have to start sacrificing. Don't they understand that I already have been, you think. You weren't the one spending too much or living on money you didn't have. You made decisions rooted in logic while others made decisions rooted in greed -- yet now everyone must pay equally? Yet, despite all of that, you're still willing to sacrifice more because you want America to succeed. But you demand a plan that's based on common sense and that actually has a chance to work. You've called your congressman a few times in the past, but they don't listen. Now you just scream at the television. It's about as effective as the phone calls.
Lesson #10: A Tale of Two Political Debates Duration: 90 minutes Priority standards: 11.05, 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will compare the first Lincoln/Douglas debate to the first Obama/McCain debate. Then they will discuss the implications. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter four.
Materials needed: Photocopies of the following political cartoon: http://z.about.com/d/politicalhumor/1/0/E/4/2/lincoln-douglass-debate-lk0.jpg
Photocopies of the first Lincoln/Douglas debate: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgibin/philologic/navigate.pl?lincoln.2239 There is an audio version of an enactment of the Lincoln/Douglas debate available here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechabelincolnillinois. html A computer with internet access and a projector to show the following Obama/McCain debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-nNIEduEOw Pages 44-50 of Amusing Ourselves to Death *Steps/Procedures:
1. Begin by showing students the cartoon. Have them discuss the humor and the serious message behind it (current politics are more about image than substance). 2. Either read pages 44-50 of Amusing Ourselves to Death or give them a brief lesson on the history of the L/D debates. The important information is that they were in Illinois, and attended by more than 15,000 people, many of whom had to travel long distances. They were day-long events with a carnivalesque atmosphere. Keep in mind these were not Presidential debates, and the audience could not even vote on them. Lastly, and most importantly, the format went as follows: first speaker for sixty minutes, second speaker for ninety minutes, and first speaker again for thirty minutes. 3. Have two students come up and play the parts of Lincoln and Douglas. Have Douglas read for three minutes, Lincoln for four, and Douglas again for one and a half. This is 1/20 of the time they were allotted. You can also listen to the audio version of the reenactment available on the site listed above. There is a text portion that you can project as students listen. 4. Tell the students that 52.4 million viewers watched the first Obama/McCain debate. Then show 1/20 of the Obama/McCain debate. Start at 45 seconds and show approximately 5 minutes. 5. Afterwards, compare and contrast the debates with the questions that follow.
Topics for Discussion on Political Debates Consider the following after you have read, seen, and/or listened to the political debates:
How are the formats different?
How do these formats affect the content?
Does this effect lead us to any conclusions about the purpose and effectiveness of the debate?
What would be expected of the audiences of each debate to know in order to follow them?
What skills would be expected of the audiences of each debate in order to follow them?
What other differences are there in the audiences?
What are the implications of all of these differences?
How do you suppose these changes have occurred?
Lesson #11: Decontextualized Information Duration: 90 minutes Priority standards: 11.03, 11.05 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will peruse current newspapers in the search for information upon which they will act. Materials needed:
Photocopies of pages 67-68 The front section, metro section, and lifestyle section of The Oregonian from the last months worth of newspapers. Steps/Procedures: 1. Read Postman’s pages 67-68 with your students and discuss what he means. 2. Ask students if they agree or disagree with him. Can they think of any information they have received from the news that they needed to know or upon which they have acted? 3. Give each student either the front section or metro section of recent Oregonians. Tell them they need to list each article and what it is about. 4. Then they should rank each article along the following spectrum: |----------------------------------------------------------|--------------------------------------------------------| not at all important to me somewhat important to me extremely important to me
5. Next, have students answer these questions: a. What section do you have? b. What is the date? c. How many articles are in your section? d. How many of these articles are on each part of the spectrum? Explain the ones that are important to you. Why are they? e. How many of these articles provided you information upon which you will act? Explain any upon which you will act. 6. Finally, tally up the answers to questions d and e. 7. Ask students to write a response: What are the implications what you and your classmates found as you went through the newspaper? Does it support Postman’s argument? How so?
Decontextualized Information 1. How often do you read the newspaper or watch the news on TV or online? Often Sometimes Rarely
2. How important do you think it is to watch and/or read the news? Very Somewhat Not important 3. How often do you ACT on something that you’ve heard about on the news? Often Sometimes Never 4. After reading this section from Amusing Ourselves to Death, summarize Postman’s argument about the news. What is his overall point and what evidence was most or least convincing to you? Why?
5. For each article you read, complete the following: Title of section: _________________ Title of article: ___________________ |----------------------------------------------------------|--------------------------------------------------------| extremely important to me somewhat important to me not important to me
Title of section: _________________ Title of article: ___________________ |----------------------------------------------------------|--------------------------------------------------------| extremely important to me somewhat important to me not important to me
Title of section: _________________ Title of article: ___________________ |----------------------------------------------------------|--------------------------------------------------------| extremely important to me somewhat important to me not important to me
6. On the back or separate paper: What are the implications what you and your classmates found as you went through the newspaper? Does it support Postman’s argument? How so?
Lesson #12: Evaluating Tone Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: 11.11 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will evaluate Postman’s tone in a paragraph on page 67 and to write a piece with an appropriately effective tone. Materials needed:
Photocopies of pages 67-68 Steps/Procedures: 1. Teach (or remind) students what tone is and how to evaluate it. Tone is often defined as the “attitude of the narrator towards his or her subject.” 2. One method for students to identify and evaluate tone is by examining the Sentence Structure, Language, Imagery, Diction, and Details (SLIDD) of a passage. Be sure to take a few minutes to discuss these terms with your students. 3. Hand out the section of Postman’s text. As a class, have them identify who the narrator is and identify the subject. Then, ask them what the narrator’s attitude is towards this subject. Then, breaking students into group, ask them to identify what parts of SLIDD create this tone. 4. From there, have your students write a paragraph answering the following question: Do you agree with Postman that the vast majority of news is irrelevant to your life? Have them use their findings from the previous activity as evidence of their idea. Tell them the key part of this assignment is not the argument itself, but their use of parts of SLIDD to create a clear tone. 5. Have your students exchange these paragraphs with another. Give them five colors of highlighters, and have the identify the parts of SLIDD. Also have them do the other steps listed above in number one. 6. Finally, have some students with a particularly effective and appropriate tone share their pieces with the class. Have the class discuss the tone and ideas if you have time.
Tone Evaluation Narrator: _____________________ Subject: ___________________________________ Tone (narrator’s attitude toward subject): _________________________________ How do the following elements help to create the identified tone:
On the back or on separate paper: Do you agree with Postman that the vast majority of news is irrelevant to your life? Be sure to use your findings from the previous activity as evidence of your idea. As you write, be sure to consider your own SLIDD to create an effective and appropriate tone.
Lesson #13: Amusing Ourselves with a Mid-unit Breather Duration: 50 minutes Priority standards: 11.05, 11.15, 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will summarize and evaluate Postman’s on-going argument. Materials needed: Graphic organizers Steps/Procedures: 1. Working in pairs or small groups, students should complete the first summary chart where they identify and evaluate Postman’s main arguments. 2. Then, students should create their own argument about a topic that Postman has raised by using the Toulmin graphic organizer that was introduced earlier in the unit. 3. Students should exchange pieces and evaluate each other’s arguments.
Amusing Ourselves to Death Throughout this text, Neil Postman has put forward several individual arguments that may point toward his larger ideas. Take a few moments to summarize and evaluate some of his main arguments. Postman believes that ….
His most convincing evidence for this is …
I agree or disagree because …
Postman’s overall conclusions (so far) could be summarized as….
An idea that has occurred to me while reading Postman is ….
Lesson #14: A Thousand (more or less) Words Duration: 100 minutes Priority standards: 11.05, 11.15, 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will use a photograph in order to evaluate Postman’s ideas about images. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter five.
Materials needed: Pages 71-72 of Amusing Ourselves to Death Iconic photographs Each student needs to bring in a photograph from home. Steps/Procedures:
1. Begin with the old expression “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Ask students what this expression is supposed to mean? Do they agree with it? 2. Either distribute copies of or project samples of iconic photographs from history. A few are included here. Most of these will be familiar to students, though they may not know the exact historical contexts. After looking at each one for a few minutes, ask them write words and phrases that come to mind from the picture. Afterward, ask students whether these photographs support the expression from step #1. 3. Next, read pages 71-72 together, and discuss Postman’s ideas about images. 4. Then, have students use their own photographs they brought from home to support or refute his ideas. Allow time for them to exchange photos with one another and discuss them in light of Postman’s argument. 5. For homework, have students use language to convert the image to idea. Have them write a 1,000 (more or less) word narrative or imaginative essay about the photograph. 6. The next day, have students read their narrative or imaginative in small groups. Then have them use their essays and photographs to discuss the differences of what is possible with writing and photography. Extension possibility: There is a wonderful documentary called The True Meaning of Pictures (Jennifer Baichwal 2002) available through Netflix that explores the role of photography and truth. This film examines the work of photographer Shelby Lee Adams, whose pictures document life of rural Appalachia. The filmmaker interviews Adams, residents of Appalachia, art critics, and a sociologist; some feel his work is exploitative, while others see it as a celebration of a culture. By presenting the pictures themselves, along with the stories beyond the pictures, the filmmaker tries to figure out what a photograph really means. Relevant to this activity is one key, short sequence at 0:17:500:22:30 Chapter 4 on DVD that raises many interesting aspects of photography.
Lesson #15: Entertain Us Duration: 100 minutes Priority standards: 11.05, 11.11 Brief overview of lesson:
Students will listen to a podcast of “This American Life” about a yearly intellectual debate at a college that has disintegrated into pure entertainment. They will then discuss what should or should not be entertaining. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter six. It is suggested that you read pages 88-91 for a great example of what they need to find. Materials needed: Pages 88-91 of Amusing Ourselves to Death Podcast: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/sites/all/play_music/play_full.php?play=402 *Steps/Procedures:
1. Begin by having students listen to the podcast. 2. Discuss the podcast using the following questions: What did you think of the devil’s advocate’s argument? What were the most and least effective arguments put forward? 3. Read the section of the Postman text. Would he agree or not with the argument in the podcast or not? Why? 4. For homework, give students a few days to find something that they feel is treated as entertainment when it should be taken more seriously. Tell them to look on TV. In the classroom. In their daily lives. Have them write a brief persuasive speech in which they attempt to convince that this topic should have been taken more seriously. 5. Have students deliver their speeches in small groups. Have a few repeat them for the class. Engage in debate. 6. Follow this up by asking students why this occurs. Is there anything in our culture that is too sacred for entertainment? Should there be? What do our most dominant media have to do with this?
Lesson #16: Disinform Us Duration: 100 minutes Priority standards: 11.18 Brief overview of lesson:
This lesson is designed to help students under the meaning and effects of what Postman calls disinformation. If you do this with Amusing Ourselves to Death it goes with chapter seven. Materials needed: Paper and pen Internet and projector Steps/Procedures:
1. Begin by having your class play the following game on sporcle.com.: http://www.sporcle.com/games/corplogos.php No doubt, your students will be able to recognize all of the corporate logos before time is up. Or, use the low-tech version with the picture on the following page. 2. Follow this up by reminding your students that there is a war going on in the Middle East. Give them a series of relatively innocuous questions that they should know if they are at all informed about this. Here are some examples from 2010: What language do most Iraqis speak? Iranians? Afghans? What does the word “Ayatollah” mean or imply? Who are the presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan? About how many troops does the US currently have in each country? Who is the US currently fighting in Afghanistan? Who was the Shah and what role did he play in the Middle East? In which country were most of the 9/11 bombers born? 3. Chances are good that most of your students will not be able to answer all of these questions. But now, ask some other questions about recent movie stars, TV shows or tabloid scandals. Could more students answer these? 4. To make this more than the cliche, “Gotcha! You know about trivial things and you don’t know about important things, and this is proof that Americans are stupid,” this is a great opportunity to define disinformation. As Postman puts it on page 107, “Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading informationmisplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information- information that creates the illusion of knowing something which in fact leads one away from knowing.” 5. Have students read the section and have a discussion about the following questions: What information is important to your life? Why? What information is essential to your life? Why? What information is important to your community? Why? What information is essential to your community? Why? What are some things you know that do not fit on either of these lists? What is this information good for? Now watch a half an hour of nightly news from ABC, NBC, Fox, or one of their cable news channels. Assign groups of students to take notes on the following sheet and Discuss the implications.
News program viewed: _______________________ Date: ____________ Information received
Music and sound effects
Time for each segment
Prepare to discuss the following: How much important or essential information did you receive? What is the function of everything else? Is the main function of the news information or entertainment?
Lesson #17: Breaking the Spell Duration: 90 minutes Priority standards: 11.03, 11.05, 11.17 Brief overview of lesson:
By reading and discussing this section of Postman’s concluding chapter to Amusing Ourselves to Death students should be able to come up with some of their own questions in his style. Materials needed:
Photocopies of the pages from the text Steps/Procedures:
1. Read this excerpt together. Discuss why Postman wants us to ask these questions. Give students a few minutes to choose one or two of the questions he asks, and have them write up some answers. Then discuss. 2. Ask students to evaluate this final argument by Postman by using the Toulmin model. What makes it effective or not? 3. For homework, tell students to spend a half hour or with one kind of media. Tell them to come in with two questions that an active consumer of such media should ask. 4. The next day, have students share their questions. Write them on the board. Have students choose one that they think is most important and give them time to write an answer. Then discuss. 5. Type up a list of all of the good questions, including Postman’s. Give this to your students and tell them to post it next to their computer and/or television.
Identifying and Evaluating Arguments with Toulmin Model Term
What makes this a successful argument or not? Refer to specific aspects of the excerpt, including other factors such as structure and tone.
Culminating Assessment: Writing the Word Assignment Write an argumentative critical essay in which you synthesize some of the ideas from this unit and put forward an idea about the role of media in our lives and in our culture. This essay should be written for an audience of your peers. Your goal is to write it in a tone and form that should both teach your peers some of these concepts and convince them that learning these concepts is important. Your essay should answer the broad question, “how does the dominant media affect a culture?” However, your answer should cover only one or two related and focused ideas. Steps 1. Review the main ideas and concepts of this unit by looking at the various information you have collected about the arguments you have read, viewed, listened to, and discussed. Here are a few main points to re-consider to which you have already responded at some point in the unit: The media is the metaphor Political discourse in America has changed vastly throughout the years due to a change in the dominant media. There is a difference between how an event is represented through television and reading. Photographs cannot express ideas. Because the dominant media of our age have a tendency towards entertainment, some things formerly held sacred have been made trivial. Disinformation gives us the false sense of knowing important things and actually prevents us from doing so. Any other idea that helps show how changes in media affect a culture. 2. Before writing rough drafts, re-read what you have written for this unit. This includes expository, persuasive, and narrative or imaginative writing. Search these for ideas and even passages you might use in this final essay. 3. Be sure to follow the steps of the writing process: write theses on the board and have peers critique them for conciseness, preciseness, focus, and arguability. create an outline of topic sentences including transitions to show how each is connected to the previous. Cut them up, mix them up, and have other students attempt to put them back in order by using the transitions. write a rough draft. Have a peer evaluate your argument using the Toulmin Model to assess how effective you are at persuading your audience. 4. As you begin finalizing your essay, be sure to: Begin with an introduction that hooks the reader. Use a strong technique for your hook such as the personal anecdote, the hypothetical, the analogy, etc. Make your thesis focused. Less is more. Don’t try to do too much. Take one or two of the ideas or concepts and teach those. 65
Support all of your expository writing with evidence. You are required to use examples from Amusing Ourselves to Death. Additional evidence should be anecdotal or research-based. Make the first half of your essay expository in nature. In them, teach your peers about the concept or idea. Make the rest of your essay persuasive. In this part, attempt to persuade your peers that this is important to understand. Give solid reasoning and supporting evidence to be convincing. In this part, your tone might, for example, become more personal. In your conclusion you should leave the reader with the sense of how understanding these concepts/ideas has affected you. 5. Have a peer or an adult edit your paper one more time before submitting to check for grammar, conventions, and other factors that might cause any readability problems.
Culminating Assessment Scoring Guide: Media and Culture Priority Standard 11.02. Analyze an
author’s unstated ideas and meanings and analyzing evidence that supports those unstated ideas.
11.05 Evaluate an
11.07. Use textual evidence to develop/ support an interpretation
11.15.1 Develop a thesis that takes a knowledgeable position
11.15.3. Address counter arguments
11.17. Identify, analyze, and discuss the purposes of media
Exceeds (6-5) The essay includes a thorough and insightful critique of the author’s argument, including identifying what evidence was effective or ineffective.
Meets (4-3) The essay includes an identification of the evidence that the author uses, though the evaluation of that evidence might be somewhat limited.
Does Not Yet Meet (2-1) The essay includes little reflection on the type and quality of evidence that the author uses to support the argument.
The essay includes several appropriate, effective, and specific references to the main text as well as personal experiences and other sources. Overall, the essay is extremely convincing because it is fully supported with a wide variety of examples.
The essay has included references to the main text and other sources, including personal experiences. Overall, the essay is mostly convincing because an attempt has been made to support with examples. The essay includes a clear thesis that take a position on the issue. Overall, the essay is convincing through its acknowledgment of counter arguments. The essay demonstrates some familiarity the role and purposes of the media.
The essay includes few or any specific references to the main text or other sources other than personal experiences. The essay is not well supported and is not too convincing.
The essay includes a clearly stated or implied thesis that is original and insightful. Overall, the essay is extremely convincing due to its expert addressing and refuting of counter arguments. The essay shows a deep and sophisticated awareness of the role of media and their purposes.
The essay does not contain a clearly stated or implied thesis. Overall, the essay is not persuasive due to its lack of addressing of counter arguments. The essay shows little knowledge of the media and their purposes.
Lesson #18: Spreading the Word Duration: 120 minutes Overview: This activity gives students a chance to participate in an authentic teaching and learning exercise as they consider how they might spread the ideas they learned in this unit to others. Materials: as determined by student groups
Steps 1. Find a freshman teacher or a few who are willing to give up their class for one period. 2. You can have your students do this individually or in groups. 3. First have them create and use their lesson for your class. 4. Then choose the best two or three and have your students work together to teach this to a freshman class. 5. Reflect on the experience afterwards.
Spreading the Word Assignment Media literacy is important for an individual to understand in order to make free choices about how to live one’s life. However, it is still difficult to be media literate in a culture of vast media illiteracy. One way to use your skepticism is to teach it to others. Therefore, your final assignment for this unit is devise a way to teach one of the unit’s ideas to freshman. The activity that you create should last from 10-15 minutes, and it should involve one or a few of the following modalities: visual, auditory, kinesthetic. You will also turn in a write-up of your idea using the following template:
Quotations from Postman that include the idea The idea in your own words Your creative idea for teaching it summarized A step by step plan for your lesson. A justification for your lesson (Why do you think it will work for teaching it?)
Two Samples of this assignment: SAMPLE 1 1. “By the turn of the century, advertisers no longer assumed rationality on the part of their potential customers. Advertising became one part depth psychology, one part aesthetic theory. Reason had to move itself to other arenas”(60). 2. Advertising is a metaphor for the decline of the prevalence of the written word and thus the rationality of the American people. 3. We will give a powerpoint with advertisements in chronological order starting with early magazine advertisements from the 19th century ending with modern advertisements. 4. We will ask the class to take notes on the advertisements without telling them anything about them other than the date they were released. We will then lead a discussion over the differences in advertisements, highlighting how advertisers no longer present the uses or benefits of the product, they just portray an attractive imag, assuming that the customer is only concerned with the image of the product, not its uses or value. Overall, we want them to see how advertising changed from something playing to our rational brains to our reptilian brains. 5. This will work for us because as we go through the advertisements chronologically, the trend of declining product descriptions and increased irrelevant pictures becomes very clear and will be easy to lead a discussion on. SAMPLE 2 1. Quotations: • “Casts of talking hair-dos” • “It is, of course, not necessary that the visuals actually document the point of the story” (102). • “Many newscasters do not appear to grasp the meaning of what they are saying, and 69
some hold to a fixed and ingratiating enthusiasm as they report on earthquakes and mass killings”(104). •”The viewers also know that no matter how grave any fragment of news may appear…it will shortly be followed by a series of commercials, that will, in a instant, defuse the importance of the news…’(104-105).
2. Idea: Our idea is to teach students about the reality of news shows. We want to emphasize that our world is transitioning into a “Now This” culture, which leaves people disinformed and believing that serious issues are mere entertainment. We will focus our presentation on many aspects of a news program. These include how newscasters are “actors” and how it is more important that they are beautiful and entertaining than truly informative and smart. Furthermore, we will talk about how newscasters many times do not appear to grasp what they are talking about, because they always have enthusiasm when reporting horrific events. We will also talk about how news programs use music to create a certain mood for the viewers. Similarly, we will touch on the subject of visuals used in new shows and how they can be entirely unrelated to the event itself. During our presentation we will also focus on how in every news program there are millions of distractions so that the viewers do not get bored. This includes, but is not limited to, lighting, sound, “breaking news” running across the bottom of the screen, and a constant changing of setting. The last point that we will make is how commercials are always separating ideas, which defuses the importance of what you have just learned about.
3. Creative Idea: Our presentation will be a skit illustrating a news program called “Chapter 7 news.” Instead of talking about issues in our world, we will be informing the audience about the ideas seen in Chapter 7 of Neil Postman’s novel, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Allison and I will be dramatized newscasters. Julia will play the role of Aldous Huxley, who will be interviewed, and McKenzie and Julia will be changing the setting and performing the commercials. (Orange Juice, mattress World, Verizon Wireless). Before our presentation begins, we will be asking the students to take notes on what they notice during the performance. We will then discuss their findings and give them insight into why we did certain things.
Step 1: Ask the students to take out a piece of paper and pencil. Instruct them to write down anything they notice. Step 2: Perform our well thought out Act. (News Program). Step 3: Discuss what they found. Give them insight into the complex ideas Neil Postman Highlights in chapter 7. Step 4: Explain our illustration. Step 5: Answer any questions still remaining.
5. Justification of our lesson: Our lesson plan keeps students engaged and as ironic as it is, it is entertaining. Instead of a boring lecture, students will be able to watch a satirical portrayal of a news program, while still being able to understand the main concepts Neil Postman is trying to get across.
Lesson #19 : Unit Reflection Duration: 30 minutes Priority standards: 11.15 Brief overview of lesson:
Have students answer questions to give feedback about the unit. Materials needed:
The questions Pen Steps/Procedures:
1. Have students answer the following question in the expository paragraphs. Which activity was your favorite in this unit? Why? Which activity was your least favorite in this unit? Why? Do you feel like this unit leaves you with a stronger grasp of media literacy? How does this unit leave you feeling? Inspired? Skeptical? Cynical? What can you do to continue learning and teaching media literacy? How have your skills of reading, evaluating, and writing arguments improved? 2. Postman wrote this text in 1985 when television was the dominate medium for information and entertainment. What would Postman have to say about the new mediums of the past 5-10 years with the rise of the Internet and Social Media? Do his arguments still stand, are they reinforced, or are there pieces that have not been accounted for?
Student Sample The following is an essay written by a Lincoln HS junior responding to Amusing Ourselves to Death. The idea was to choose one or a few of Postman’s ideas and support or refute them. In response to Postman’s claim on page 28 that “…the uses of print and reading are not the same as they once were; not even in schools, the last institutions where print was thought to be invincible. The delude themselves who believe that television and print coexist, for coexistence implies parity. There is no parity here. Print is now merely a residual epistemology, and it will remain so…” I disagree. First, I would like to point out that this statement is not a trivial part of this book; the assumption that the use of television inversely impacts the use of print is integral to Postman’s argument that we are “amusing ourselves to death”. That said, this statement is both factually and logically incorrect. While it is factually correct to say that “…the uses of print and reading are not the same as they once were…”, Postman’s assertion that these uses have changed for the worse is completely incorrect. More points of view than ever before are being put into print every day, and new avenues of distribution like audiobooks, Braille books, and ondemand printing have allowed more people than ever to have access to them. The use of books in schools has seen a steady shift from rote memorization of key plot points (the “book report” learning) to actual analysis of the ideas contained within great works of literature. The internet has given rise to an entirely new and beneficial use of print in the form of blogs, many of which bear a striking resemblance to the pamphlets which Postman describes in his description of colonial American literary merits. The book itself is seeing a radical transformation, as more and more authors are licensing their works with creative commons licenses and allowing anyone to read what they have to say at absolutely no cost. Even the physical form of books is diversifying, with the advent of popular e-readers which allow modern readers to bring an entire library with them. In short, never before has the book been more popular, the methods of reading so accessible, and the uses of print so innovative and intelligent. In addition to arguing that the uses of print and reading have gone down in stature, Postman also makes the radical (and unsupported) conclusion that “Print is now merely a residual epistemology, and it will remain so…” This, again, is completely false. The publishing industry has been seeing a steady rate of growth for the last 7 years, with sales of hardbound books increasing by 1.3% and paperbound books by 2.6%. In addition, in the last 7 years the sale of audiobooks has increased by 4.3%, and the sale of e-books, has, in the last year, skyrocketed by 176% making it a $313 million dollar industry. The popularity of print has, if anything, benefited from the film and television industry. I know many peers who never would have started reading at an early age had it not been for films like Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Print media is alive and well today, thriving as it is brought into the 21st century. I also mentioned that the above statement by Postman is logically incorrect. The exact fallacy which I would like to challenge is that “coexistence implies parity” and his
implication that as a result of how “there is no parity” print will remain a residual epistemology. Parity, which means “a comparability of strength or intensity”1 is not in any way a condition for coexistence. The only condition for coexistence is that any resource contention between the two coexisting parties is dealt with in a way that is mutually satisfactory. Hence, lack of parity is not a failing condition for coexistence; as resources may still be allocated fairly even when there is no parity. In the case of print versus television; this resource contention occurs only with respect to readers’ attention. The amount of time which readers have to consume media is limited, and as such there is a resource contention between print and television. Today, this contention has naturally resolved itself, with those who enjoy and benefit from the complex presentation of ideas available in print reading, and those who only require pure entertainment partaking in visual entertainment. I argue that this is coexistence; as the “requirements” of both books and visual entertainment (insofar as they have requirements) are fulfilled: the books are read by people who will understand them and the movies and TV are watched by people who will enjoy them. To the people who will challenge this assertion by saying that those who partake in visual entertainment are most in need of books (read: Mr. Gutlerner), I say that this is a complete hypocrisy. Just as book-readers have the right to dismiss movies and TV as things which are not worth their time, media-viewers have the ability to decide for themselves that books are not something which will help them enrich their lives. I would also like to note that even if this counter-argument is true, it does not change that fact that print and visual media have achieved coexistence as I have explained above; it only highlights how some people (read: English teachers) would like this existence to be skewed heavily in favor of print. While Neil Postman makes some very good points in Amusing Ourselves to Death, there are many cases in which he oversteps the bounds of logic and factuality in order to support those points. His statement that “…the uses of print and reading are not the same as they once were; not even in schools, the last institutions where print was thought to be invincible. The delude themselves who believe that television and print coexist, for coexistence implies parity. There is no parity here. Print is now merely a residual epistemology, and it will remain so…” is one of those cases, due to the factual incorrectness of print being a residual epistemology, the incorrect assertion/connotation that the uses of print and reading have changed for the worse, and the logical fallacy present in Postman’s conclusion that television and print do not coexist. 1
Here is an additional lesson that does not quite fit into the unit, but is a great addition.
Television as Art *Duration: ___90_____ (in minutes) *Priority standards: (numbers only)
*Brief overview of lesson: Student’s will watch episode six, season one, of the AMC television show Mad Men. (http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/episode6) The teacher will then teach the show as if it were a short story establishing the idea that television can be smart and profoundly affect us as art is meant to. *Materials needed: Episode six, season one, of Mad Men. The episode is titled “Babylon”. Pen and paper Key vocabulary: Allusion Metaphor Symbol Image *Steps/Procedures: Students will watch the show taking notes to gather the pieces of the puzzle that can be put together to fashion interpretation. Students should look for repetition of allusion, symbol, metaphor, and image. Teacher must stress that repetition is purposeful and must be accounted for by any interpretation.
Closure: Teacher leads a directed conversation in which an interpretation of the episode is developed by piecing together the pieces found in the student’s notes. Students could ultimately write a literary analysis essay of the episode demonstrating, in so doing, that TV can be art.