Entertainment Over Education
In 1984, Neil Postman warned about the dangers of “transforming all serious public business into junk.”
In 1984, Neil Postman warned about the dangers of “transforming all serious public business into junk.” By this, Postman meant that the new wave of late 20th century media entertainment could eventually come to overtake all aspects of life. With the shift to digitalization, he feared that we would come to treat all subject matter as entertainment and thus, disregard their authentic value. Postman’s fears, later published in the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, foreshadowed the modern era of 24/7 news coverage, where an search online reveals a barrage of websites fighting for the viewer’s attention.
In the breakneck pace of today’s digital world, there is often the temptation for journalists to come treat news as a source of entertainment, rather than information. On Sunday morning, basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a devastating helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. In the aftermath, while rushing to release the news, several highly reputable news outlets made factual errors: For example, Matt Gutman, the chief national correspondent at ABC News, falsely reported that all four of Bryant’s children were killed in the crash. Like many other reporters, Gutman disregarded journalistic standards of promoting the truth for the sake of being the first to release the heavily coveted story. And in doing so, he overlooked the original purpose of news—to inform—and instead looked to its entertainment value.
Even more alarmingly, we have come to expect this from our news coverage. This fall, the Harvard Crimson published an article covering a campus protest against ICE, in which reporters wrote, “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.” The idea that the Crimson reached out to such a hated institution met intense backlash; student activists demanded that the paper never contact ICE again and that the reporters apologize for the harm that they inflicted. These demands indicate that we have lost sight of the purpose behind responsible journalism; instead, we ask that this journalism be reshaped and staged to suit the requirements of our entertainment.
The issue of transforming serious business into entertainment transcends media. In this “junk” culture, as Postman described, we have come to confuse the joys of entertainment with our education at Lawrenceville. Over the last four years, our solution to this problem at Lawrenceville has been to create more leisure time for students by reducing the workload. Initiatives like no homework Mondays and Pace of Life days have been instituted into our schedules, and yet, it seems as if nothing of much substance has changed. Students continue to feel the pressures of the rigorous Lawrenceville pace, and it seems as though we have not strayed from the entertainment seeking mindset that we have developed. If personal development and meaningful experience is truly what the student body seeks, then parchment barrier policies that reduce workload is not the solution.
We have developed a culture in which we are willing to pay far too much for the sake of amusement and meaningful conveniences. Instead, we must attempt to look past the idea that only that which makes us feel good is worth spending our time on and actively choose to pursue meaning in every aspect of our lives—news, education, and otherwise.