70 years ago in The Villager

Volume 73, Number 24 | October 15 – 21, 2003


Neil Postman, 72, N.Y.U professor, media critic and education reformer

Neil Postman, former chairperson of the Department of Culture and Communication of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education and a nationally known education reformer and media critic, died Sun. Oct. 5 of lung cancer at the age of 72.

A faculty member at N.Y.U. for 39 years, he published more than 200 articles, many in general circulation magazines. Among his 20 books, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business,” published by Viking in 1985, criticizes the television industry for treating the world’s most serious issues as entertainment. It has been translated into eight languages and has sold 200,000 copies worldwide.

With the help of his mentor, the late media studies pioneer, Marshall McLuhan, Postman founded the media ecology program at the Steinhardt Department of Culture and Communication in 1971. The program examines the relationship between society, culture and media influence and now enrolls nearly 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Postman was especially concerned with how media shapes the lives of children and devoted himself to teaching reform. He wrote “The Disappearance of Childhood” in 1994 and wrote textbooks in the 1960s, including “Television and the Teaching of English,” “The Uses of Language” and “Language and Reality.” In 1969 he co-authored “Teaching as a Subversive Activity,” followed in 1979 by “Teaching as a Conserving Activity.”

His devotion to teaching was recognized in 1988 when N.Y.U. bestowed a Distinguished Teacher Award. He also held the Christian Lindback Award for excellence in teaching.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in 1953 from SUNY at Fredonia where he played basketball. In 1958 he earned an Ed. D. degree from Columbia University Teachers College and came to N.Y.U. in 1959 as a professor of English.

His wife, Shelley, three children and four grandchildren survive.

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