New York University Professor Neil Postman, a well-known social critic and educator, died on Oct. 5 in Queens, New York. He was 72.
A faculty member at NYU for 39 years, Postman founded NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education’s program in Media Ecology in 1971 and was chair of the Department of Culture and Communication until 2002. He was an education reformer, humanist, social visionary, and media critic who developed a wide audience for his writing and speaking. Postman was appointed a University Professor at NYU in 1993, the only professor at the Steinhardt School of Education to hold this honor and one of only 17 at NYU. He was named the Paulette Goddard Professor of Media Ecology in 1998.
Postman was known for his work, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Viking, 1985), which criticized the television industry for treating the world’s most serious issues and problems as entertainment. The book, one of 20 Postman authored, has been translated into eight languages and sold 200,000 copies worldwide. Many of Postman’s works offered cautionary perspectives on the impact of television and other technologies. In The Disappearance of Childhood (Vintage, 1994), he argued that television homogenizes the worlds of children and adults by giving children access to vast amounts of information that was once reserved for adults. Postman’s other works included Building a Bridge to the 18th Century (Knopf, 1999) and Technopoly (Vintage, 1993).
Postman was particularly concerned about how media shaped children’s lives.
“The lives of our children are shaped by what they will see and hear in the media,” he wrote in The Disappearance of Childhood. “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
Postman published more than 200 articles, including pieces for the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, the Saturday Review, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Le Monde. He was also a contributing editor at the Nation and, for 10 years, the editor of Et Cetera, the journal of general semantics.
Postman began his career as a teacher educator, authoring numerous textbooks in the 1960s, including Television and the Teaching of English (Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1961), The Uses of Language (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962), and Language and Reality (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967).
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Postman devoted his scholarship to teaching reform. Among his most prominent works in this area are Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Delacorte, 1969), co-authored with Charles Weingartner, and Teaching as a Conserving Activity (Delacorte, 1979).
In 1986, Postman was given the George Orwell Award for Clarity in Language by the National Council of Teachers of English. He is the holder of the Christian Lindback Award for excellence in teaching. In 1988, he was given NYU’s Distinguished Teacher Award.
Born in New York City on March 8, 1931, Dr. Postman received a bachelor of science degree from SUNY-Fredonia in 1953 and a master’s degree in 1955 and an Ed.D. in 1958 both from Columbia University Teachers College.
He is survived by his wife, Shelley, three children, and four grandchildren.
EDITOR’S NOTE The Steinhardt School of Education prepares students for careers in education, health and nursing, communications, and the arts and to serve as a source of continuing education for working professionals who seek career advancement and enrichment. On the graduate level, specialized training is offered within the context of one of the country’s leading centers of research. The school is also a center for research and community service, especially committed to activities aimed at improving the urban environment.