Friday, May 11, 2007

TV and Kids

Back in the late 70s to mid-80s when I was teaching school, I was trying to figure out how to keep kids interested in what was going on in the classroom. By that time teachers been assigned the responsibility to motivate students to learn, a job I always thought was the parents’ responsibility. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: Trying to make learning interesting has always been a proper role for teachers, and the good ones know how to do it. But making kids want to learn is not, or should not be, the teachers’ responsibility; that should come from the home. The teacher’s job used to be, and ought to be still, to present material to students and help them understand it, but things have changed dramatically in public education.

Over the last 40 years the American family has all but collapsed, with huge a percentage of kids being born out of wedlock and growing up in single-parent families. Many single parents—moms, mostly—trying to raise their children alone work hard to do it right, and some are successful, but for practical reasons many others aren’t. Still others don’t have a clue how to raise a child, and a lot of those don’t really care. Consequently, kids are not getting the training in the home that they need for when they go to school, and the schools have, depending upon your perspective, either been assigned that responsibility by government, or have taken it over with the acquiescence or encouragement of government. Those among us who worry about our freedoms being eroded ought to pay particular attention to this sinister approach: When the people don’t or won’t do what government believes they should do, government will do it for them. Our increasingly paternalistic government saw children unprepared for school, and instead of addressing the societal failure that produced that problem has instead stepped in to “fix” the problem by shifting the responsibility from parents to government schools.

So, while I was in the classroom teachers were expected to motivate kids to learn, in addition to helping them learn. It became apparent that many kids didn’t have anyone at home imposing discipline on them, making and helping them study at home and monitoring their free time, and that most kids spent a lot of time in front of the television. When I analyzed what happens when kids watch a lot of TV I realized that the act of watching TV arms their subconscious with a host of expectations. When you think about it, TV programs are designed to hold kids’ attention and they do that by keeping things moving; they are a constantly changing mélange of sight and sound, and the result is that kids become trained to expect this same “programming” in the classroom. But no teacher can duplicate that effect, and the kids with less self-discipline and less motivation lose interest after a few minutes. There is a fancy name for this: Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADD/ADHD). My opinion is that we have raised this learned response to the level of a psychological disorder, and it is a recent development paralleling the increase of television sets in homes and the tendency to use TV as a babysitter. Back when I was in school TV was relatively new and not everyone had one, and ADD/ADHD was unheard of. However, since I have only a little training in the workings of the human mind, along with my doubts I must allow that ADD/ADHD may be real psychological problems, at least some of the time.

I don’t know what the answers are to this. Hardly anyone argues that watching hours of television each day is good for children, and some of the stuff that is available for kids is pretty wild stuff and unacceptable for young minds. But in my opinion what they watch isn’t the only concern; that they watch has caused and is causing many problems. However, unless and until parents get a dose of responsibility, not much is going to change.

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