0090_Label-Libel_a term used in “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner_a 1969 book to teach teachers

Donna Jack
April 23, 2016

Around 1982 I purchased:  Teaching as a Subversive Activity:  A no-holds-barred assault on outdated teaching methods – with dramatic and practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today’s world. – 1969 by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner.

At the time I purchased it, I was pretty much a full-time volunteer at Collet Park Elementary School.


Not just your regular hard-working mommie-volunteer

When I say “full-time volunteer,” I did many of the regular mommie volunteer jobs — bringing  brownies for parties, periodically helping on the school playground or after school as the children were leaving school.  Like some mothers, I was an active member of the PTA and was on the Advisory Council – I was the parent sponsor of the Student Council.  I headed up the talent show, and the ice cream social that took place after the show; the weekly pop-corn sales; projects that the students did, etc.

But in addition to all this, I was also inside the classrooms, day after day, listening to children who read to me; teaching some classes; learning about the unreasonable conditions under which teachers had to teach; learning about all the responsibilities teachers had outside the classrooms; observing how teachers taught; observing the principal (who considered parents the enemy) as he coached the teachers to make sure to keep all school work away from parents; watching the students in the classrooms; taking about 1/2 of the students (5th grade non-readers) out of the classroom and teaching reading, so the teacher could teach the rest of the children; teaching music from class to class; officially reviewing curriculum from 4 or 5 publishers; etc.

[note:  I didn’t know the first thing about teaching reading then, but ended up inspiring at least one girl to get a real tutor and learn how to really read.]


Teaching as a Subversive Activity — It is meant to instruct teachers

Recently I showed the book Teaching as a Subversive Activity to a couple friends.  When they read the title, they assumed the book was written to expose the tactics used by some teachers to subvert students.

I pointed out that I had purchased the book in a teacher supply store about 34 years ago.  It was written to TEACH TEACHERS HOW TO SUBVERSIVELY CHANGE STUDENTS’ ATTITUDES, BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS I had actually witnessed in the classrooms, the methods that were spelled out in that book.  They were in every class, including library.  I saw them taught through textbooks, library books, videos, discussions in the school outside the classroom, and during discussions within the classrooms.  I don’t believe the teachers I worked with were aware of all of the subtle work being done through the curriculum.

I had an advantage over most teachers, because they were stuck in their classrooms.  I was able to make observations, and be involved in many classrooms — and study and review textbooks — and watch overall changes in public schools, since my husband was in the Air Force and I had been involved in schools in other states where we had lived.  The teachers I worked with in all the states, without exception, were really great, hard-working, capable, sincere teachers, who were getting more and more overburdened and censored by the ridiculous system that was developing within public schools.

[Subversive activity:  a systematic, organized, intentional attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system, (by undermining and overthrowing the teachings of parents or church, or other things accepted in a culture).  Those people master-mining the subversion, were dishonestly using people — people who I believe were usually unaware of how they were being used (like teachers, counselors, psychologists/sociologists/psychiatrists, and administrators within the schools).]

Teaching as a Subversive Activity is actually a book written as a manual for teachers, instructing them how to subversively train students in order to isolate them from their parents, tradition, religion, morality and country – and plant within them a  new relevance, where nothing of the past has value.  Today, possibly most of the current teachers have been conditioned in the teachings of Postman and Weingartner, and are at the same time, unaware of the logic behind the teachings, and the ultimate goals behind the conditioning.

The book is designed to train teachers to make students think they are of a higher intellect than their parents or any other old person, and that they can accomplish things greater than anyone who has lived in the past.  They can do this, not by studying the great minds and discoveries, or by attaining tools to learn (like reading and writing and researching).  Instead, they learn from their peers or teach their peers, and simply tap into ideas within their own heads [ideas that have been subconsciously planted into their minds by their teachers/mentors/computers/ etc..]

One concept dealt with in Teaching as a Subversive Activity is
. . . Label-Libel.

A quick summary of label-libel:  labeling a person or organization with a derogatory term, one that is meant to unjustly slander and dismiss the person or organization forever – without ever re-visiting who or what the person or organization really is.  The person or group is then trapped within the label-libel, which is intentionally meant to permanently negatively identify their entire existence within that label.   Seriously, would you want anybody to do that to you?

What is libel?  Libel is a published false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.

Slander does the same as libel, but instead of being written, it takes place when a person tells one or more persons things that are untrue about someone else, with the intention of hurting the reputation or credibility of that person.  Slandering a person is a civil wrong (tort).  A person can bring a lawsuit against someone for slandering them.

The 2013-2015 Jeffco School Board majority
was slandered and Label-Libeled

As you can read in Blog 0007, when there was a republican majority on the 2013-2015 school board, the unions began slandering them from day one after they were elected.  Eventually they circulated a petition to recall them.  The wording in the petition (and the identical wording on the ballot) was made up entirely of lies.  Both were not spoken lies – but written lies.  The wording was libelous.  There was talk of a lawsuit because of the libelous statements in both documents.  Those false charges were intended to damage the three board members’ reputations and force them out of office.

Discussion in the book of “Label-Libel”

On page 25 of Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Postman and Weingartner discuss the first of three Marshall McLuhan metaphors.

The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines a metaphor:

“a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show or suggest that they are similar”

The first metaphor is “label-libel,”  which Postman and Weingartner refer to as, “the human tendency to dismiss an idea by the expedience of naming it.  You libel by label.”  You no longer have to give a person or group a second thought – in fact you never have to listen to them in the future.

When using “label-libel,” pick out one characteristic or something the prospective target for a “label-libel” has done (or something entirely made up about that person or group).  Isolate that idea, whether it is real or imaginary.  Then blow it out of proportion, and treat it as if it were the sum total of the existence of the person (or group).

Vice-President Dan Quail was “Label-Libeled”

One example was the label put on Vice President Quail.  He was the 44th vice president of the United States (1989–93) in the Republican administration of President George Bush.

Dan Quail misspelled “potato,” and was given the “label-libel” of stupid.  What an unimportant thing to make a big deal about.  How many times have you or I misspelled a word?  Most people today make good use of Spell-Check.

In 1992, two of my sons and I went to Denver to hear Vice President Dan Quail speak in the Colorado House of Representatives Chambers.  He was exceptionally articulate and witty.

NOTE:   In the chapter that talks about “label-libel,” Postman and Weingartner give you the impression that “label-libel” is dangerous, and they advise against using it.    But then they proceed to use it throughout the entire book.  They incorporate the “label-libel” throughout their reports, descriptions and when sharing their opinions.  Then they use label-libels interspersed throughout their actual examples of exactly what to say in a classroom setting.  They teach teachers how to “label-libel” in their examples.  Say one thing (say:  don’t use label-libel) – then do another (persistently use label-libels) – possibly not expecting the reader to see the conflict.

Does “label-libel” hit close to home?

Sad to say, using a “label-libel” is not isolated to people of one particular political, religious or ethnic group.  It seems to be a disease spreading across all boundaries and divisions in our day.  Maybe it has always been present to some extent, but to me it seems to be growing out of control.

As my mother used to tell me – often we see our own shortcomings in others, not realizing that we are as guilty as they are, or even more guilty.  Maybe many of us slip into the “label-libel” habit, not even knowing it.

What about:

Have you ever said, “That person is so stupid.”

“He’s a liar.”

“I wouldn’t trust him, because I heard…..”

“He is in the _____ party, so he can’t be a good person.”

“They changed their position because somebody bought them off.  So what they say should be ignored.”

“They don’t agree with me, so they must be dishonest (or stupid, or have ulterior motives).”

“They are just doing that because they want to benefit financially – or want to gain power.”

“Of course they knew that.  So they did it wrong on purpose.”

Since “label-libel” is so prevalent today, most of us may need to be particularly careful to avoid joining in with others around us who are passing on lies that are intended to hurt people — or even repeating mistakes or shortcomings of other people.  I’d rather not have my mistakes repeated over and over again for everyone to read or hear.  Would you?

And I don’t like lies being spread about me.  Do you?


 So why are they teaching our children that it is alright to label-libel?!?



The quotation below is typed exactly like it appears
on the page before the Contents page in — Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

“Thank God there are no free schools or printing;
. . . for learning has brought disobedience and heresy
into the world, and printing has divulged them . . .
God keep us from both.”
Sir William Berkeley
Governor of Virginia, d. 1677


Teaching as a Subversive Activity:  A no-holds-barred assault on outdated teaching methods – with dramatic and practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today’s world. –  by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner.  A 1969 Delta Book.

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