Monday, August 18, 2003

Kids and TV: Flyer, I think back on my TV days with mixed feelings. As I've grown older, I've become a real bookworm, but I read terribly slowly, no doubt because I practiced so little in my formative years, preferring the company of the idiot box.

On the other hand, I'm culturally literate up to about the mid-90s.

I think video has tremendous potential for teaching, and I'm an advocate of some type of TV in the classroom. Some of the learning that stuck with me most from childhood, and influenced my thinking, came from television. James Burke's Connections stands atop the list. Ken Burns's Civil War and Jazz, though flawed, excited and enthralled me, and his brother Ric's New York documentary, while derivative, was so educational it bordered on didactic, particularly in its focus on the labor movement. Meanwhile, there is plenty of empty reading out there. Educators praise the Harry Potter books (which I am not singling out for scorn, by the way) by saying, "At least the kids are reading something." That, to me, is a cop out of the first water.

My point is, kids don't need to be media restricted so much as media guided. Some reading is better than other. Some video is better than other. And I think we all know brain-jelly entertainment when we see it. My wife and I have pulled videos from our son's viewing after seeing how little protein they offer (Fisher-Price's "Little People" videos are particularly vapid). Then again, I think I'd like to be allowed to reserve that same editorial control of what my son reads and is taught in school. (Off limits: Constructed self-esteem exercises, environmental propaganda, sexual pre-programming, racial guilt, and "sharing," just to start.) So we're all pulled in multiple, competing directions. I suppose if my own educational background offers me any guidance, it's this: A child with a good set of tools (literacy, numeracy, and a good balance of open-mindedness and skepticism), an age-appropriate amount of freedom of choice, and parents with a no-bullshit policy on answering questions is armed to enter the world on its own terms.

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