Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?

So what are our children learning from television? Anything? Anything at all?

Yeah, children learn from television. And they watch a hell of a lot of it so the question of what they're learning would seem to me to be pretty important. The problem is that what children take in, especially young children, is very difficult to measure.

And some people actively don't want it measured.

Why? Well, because it might rock the boat. Producers like to be in charge of what they produce. They don't want to be told what they are producing is not what they should be producing. And broadcasters need ratings. They don't want to be told that the shows that bring in the ratings are junk food for children. And creatives, well, at least most creatives actively want to entertain and, in that respect, are thinking of their audience but creative stubborness often gets in the way of actually looking at what's good for children.

Speaking of junk food, I read an article in Broadcast magazine a couple of years back. It was a round table discussion on the (at that time) potential junk food advertising ban in the UK. If I remember correctly, the people in the discussion were the head of Nick UK, someone from the Cartoon Network UK, the former head of Children's BBC and a top UK producer and... someone else, I think.

In this discussion involving top people involved in deciding what shows your children have access to, not one person - not one - actually asked what was right for the children.

Without exception, they all talked about the economic impact, the difficulty of funding programmes, the effect it would have on producers and the industry. They were all, without exception, against a ban on advertising junk food to children. And for one reason - money.

Not one even tried to defend the actual advertising itself by the way. Whether it was okay or not wasn't even an issue. If it involved less money for them, they were against it no matter what it was.

Did this happen when they abolished slavery I wonder?

The reason I bring that up is to illustrate how little a lot of top people care about what effects television have on your children. It's important to realise this because when I talk about television that is good for children, some people seem to think that means censorship, or reducing television to its most bland form. It doesn't. That's actually what we've got right now and it's not because these people care about your kids - it's mostly to do with a PC/lawsuit society. To be fair to the people in that Broadcast magazine article who would have your children gorging on Big Macs, many UK shows have high quality storytelling and aren't as bland as most equivalent shows imported from the US. Hardly educational though.

But children's television shouldn't be bland.

Red Pill Junkie brought up the example of Sesame Street. He proposed the idea "that the best children's programs educated inadvertedly because they were fun to watch to begin with—did someone ever watch Sesame Street because they had to??"

The thing about Sesame Street is that it is the most researched show in history. From day one, nobody in Sesame Street made a move without educators and researchers involvement, testing every segment on children. It was led by the desire to educate first. If a segment was supposed to teach a certain thing and failed, it would be dropped or change no matter how entertaining it was. Far from educating inadvertantly, Sesame Street was a very carefully planned educational tool.

To people in the industry who think that educators destroy shows, or that research with children is pointless, or that their creative vision would be sacrificed or that educational television has to be bland, Sesame Street is a big 'fuck you' to the lot of you. Sesame Street is an example of a show that educated millions of children. I learned to read through Sesame Street. And, bloody hell, that is one entertaining show.

Actually, I find it weird that, even though there are many localised Sesame Street spin-offs around the world, there has never been a UK and Ireland version (though there was recently a Northern Ireland-specific show). There should be. There is a serious hole in educational television over this side of the Atlantic. We're good with gentle storytelling shows. Actually, personally, I think we're feckin' brilliant at them. But educational shows? We have some but... they're lacking.

So why isn't there a UK Sesame Street? Is there room in this age for shows that have a bit of bite and yet are good for children?


Brian Sibley said...

Good question(s)! I just blogged about One Minute Wonders. Wonder if you've seen it yet?

Great drawings on your blog, btw... :-)

Red Pill Junkie said...

Master Bitter, you're absolutely right, sir: Children ARE the last slaves of the developed nations.

Surely people don't want to start a trend of banning junk food commercials aimed at children. Heaven forbid that would later cause a tougher rule for toys! or clothes!

The most important lesson these people want to teach to the kiddies, is that first and foremost they are CONSUMERS.

"I buy; therefore I am"*

And were it for me my friend, I would put you right now in charge of a UK version of Sesame Street :-)

*) That was actually the title of a book by a Mexican writer, Guadalupe Loaeza.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

Is "Emere Ergo Sum" the correct Latin form of "I Buy, Therefore I Am"? I'm not quite sure it is.

Also, since I am asking about grammar anyway, "Are our children learning?" would be preferred.

I can sympathize with you. There is a terrible innumeracy allowed to run rampant, a plague that begins in childhood.

I blame the math teachers. So many of them are themselves mathematically ignorant that they are forced to become pedantic and vindictive in order to keep face.

All I ask is children be taught the scale of things properly. I don't know if you ever saw "Powers Of Ten", but it is an excellent beginning. If children in general understood what billion, trillion, and etc. really meant, not just in an abstract way but as a reality, it would be a tremendous step forward.

Incidentally, if you want to be fancy you could call it a logarithmic scale.

For an example of why it helps to know this stuff look at the top end of the scale. The universe is 46 Billion light years across. This, incidentally, is more than enough money to cover the entire surface of the Moon.

Would a real feeling about the scale involved change the opinion of voters? I don't know. But it would give them a responsible sense of what they are really doing. Is that too much to ask?

Bitter Animator said...

Mr. Sibley, I'm really honoured you'd passed by my little blog! Yes actually, I have seen a couple of the One Minute Wonders and was pretty impressed with them. I'm looking forward to reading what you wrote about them.

RPJ, thanks for the vote of confidence! You're totally right on the commercialism. A snippet on that in my next post I think.

Mr.T, just so you don't think I'm a complete idiot, I should point out that the post title is a Bush quote. Here's one bit of it -

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

Something crunched out an important paragraph.

"Compare to the bailout we just had. It comprised 700 Billion dollars. This, incidentally, is more enough to cover the entire surface of the moon."

This should have been the second to last paragraph. Sorry about that.

I did not realize the satirical intent of your title. Thanks for the clip! Let me reciprocate:

Red Pill Junkie said...

Oh yes, Mr. T.

May Señor Montalbán enjoy his stay in Heaven, complete with Corinthian leather seats & all.

Anonymous said...

Ever seen Mexican Sesame Street? IT'S FREAKY, DOOD.