Hey Kids, What’s An Oxymoron? Educational TV

Toddler Prime Time

Photo by swoodie — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

You know this to be true, but now we have the studies to prove the obvious: children’s learning is not helped by television. Sorry, Kermit.

Did you really think that educators came up with the phrase “educational television”? No, it was the television industry.

As posted on KadmusArts’ News Feed this week, the author of Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives, Dr. Aric Sigman is doing his best to remind us of a simple truth: television is a way for parents to avoid, or at least take time off from interaction with their children. This is the only “value” of children’s television.

No matter how many letters Cookie Monster eats, or how many sounds a Teletubby emits, the evidence shows that an adult’s connection with a child is more stimulating, more natural, and more important. Sigman is not anti-television. In fact, he’s worked for TV. (And, as with all good Kadmians, he is proud of his travel.)

As Sigman told Reuters: “Television-makers will always justify themselves by saying that children enjoy their programs. They say they make children smile and laugh. But children will also smile if you give them cocaine.”

Of course, his research doesn’t stop with television. Analysis of brain activity shows that a child playing with beans for simple math problems exhibits significantly more blood flow to the brain than when they are working with a far more complex computer game. For Sigman, the complexity of the computer game — flash edits, sounds, colors, and speed — may have a detrimental effect on brain development.

Moreover, Sigman believes, “There is a definite inverse relationship between time spent watching any kind of television or screen when you are young and your ability to read and concentrate when you are older.”

In other words, this “recreational junk food” is not just lacking in nutrients for the short term, but has consequences for the long term. Surely this has implications for future culture audiences across all media.

In the meantime, the BBC is starting TV’s first quiz show for pre-school kids, overseen by Richard Deverell, the “children’s controller at BBC.” (Many of us have been tagged with a similar title — albeit only in our own homes.) Deverell, who used to be Head of Strategy and Marketing for BBC News, has also helped develop a BBC initiative for kids to create their own pages online, play videos, and receive prompts when their favorite shows are coming up.

Deverell is hardly alone. There is Baby Classroom, where television is for the good, and even better when you buy the videos. Or, how about Kids First! which uses the following ever-so-stringent criteria for kid productions: “programs without gratuitous sex or violence; no racial, gender, cultural or religious bias; no unsafe behavior; no condescension toward children; and no verbal or physical abuse.”

Is there no room for the criteria of intelligence, creativity, and a good story? Now, that would be educational television.

P.S. While writing this my daughter is watching SpongeBob SquarePants — an episode she has seen “at least ten times!” SpongeBob is the favorite TV character (ahead of Bart Simpson) according to a study of 6 to 12 year olds by the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television. Thankfully, she knows the difference between the pretension of education and having fun watching something so silly, and yet so wonderful.

- Bill Reichblum

Share and Enjoy:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace

Leave a Reply