Dewey and McLuhan – Learning and our Environment

We are especially in McLuhan’s debt for his restatement, in alliterative language, of Dewey’s belief that ‘we learn what we do’.  McLuhan means much the same thing by his famous aphorism , ‘The medium is the message’ (which for emphasis, fun and publicity he has rephrased, ‘The medium is the massage’).  From this perspective one is invited to see that the most important impressions made on the human nervous system come from the character and structure of the environment within which the nervous system functions; that the environment itself conveys the critical and dominant messages by controlling the perceptions and attitudes of those who participate in it.

Dewey stressed that the role an individual is assigned in an environment – what he is permitted to do – is what the individual learns.  In other words, the medium itself, ie the environment, is the message.  ‘Message’ here means the perceptions you are allowed to build, the attitudes you are enticed to assume, the sensitivities you are encouraged to develop – almost all of the things you learn to see and value.  You learn them because your environment is organised in such a way that it permits or encourages or insists that you learn them.

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – Postman and Weingartner

  1. In what ways does your environment structure what you learn?
  2. How could you restructure your environment so that you learn differently?
  3. What learning is important to you?
  4. How can you change your environment so that you learn the important stuff?

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