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A few months ago, my wife and I were walking through a store that specializes in second hand kids stuff.  Our boys had grown past a certain point, and it didn’t make much sense in keeping many of the things they wouldn’t use again.  While walking down one of the store’s aisles, I saw something from my own childhood: The Illustrated Dinosaur Encyclopedia.  Though entirely out of date now (thanks to recent discoveries and whatnot), it was in perfect condition and only $2, so we got it for the boys.

My own son is still a little young to really get into it, but he enjoys looking at the pictures nonetheless.  My stepson, however, is two years older than him and gets a kick out of it.  He and I will sit on the couch and he’ll turn to a page and ask me to read it to him.  Thanks to how it’s laid out, he can immediately see (thanks to some special graphics and charts on every page) how large the dinosaur is compared to a human, if they lived REALLY REALLY long ago, pretty long ago, sort of long ago, or just not so long ago (my terminology), and if they ate plants or meat.

I quickly realized just how much information kids store and how fast they do it.  The trick is being able to associate what that information means to them, but that’s much the same with adults anyway.  My step son was readily able to identify most of the childhood favorites:

“That’s triceratops!  He ate plants, and had three big horns to protect himself from other, bigger dinosaurs!”

“That’s a pterodactyl!  He is about as big as a man, and eats smaller dinosaurs and fish.  He has really sharp teeth for eating!”

“That’s a TYRANNOSAURUS REX!!! {his emphasis, not mine}!!!!  He’s a LOT bigger than a person, and could eat you, Zuke!  You’d better be careful around him!”

I was rather proud of what I’d passed on to him in such a short time, and how well he remembered it at the most interesting times.  Right up until he went to someone elses house and watched Little Einsteins.

“His name is Baby Dactyl, and he has a song written on his belly!  He’s scared of the volcano, so if we play the violin, and play the song on his belly, it will put the volcano to sleep, and he can go home to his mommy!”

. . . . Just so everyone knows, evidently Little Einsteins will make your kids retarded.

Famine, Pestalence, War, and Death take a ride in their rocketship.
Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death take a ride in their rocketship.

My wife and I were fully aware well in advance as to how this show talks down to our boys, and have since banned the entire Playhouse Disney lineup from our home.  However, he managed to catch a single episode somewhere else and all our work was undone.

Now, for parents who swear by this programming, you either fall into two categories:

  1. Either your child is very, very young (like 2) and this kind of programming is still totally acceptable.  Or
  2. You are selling your child short and assuming they are already too dumb to think their way out of a paper bag.

Kids have the natural tendency to pay more attention to something (be it person, cartoon, puppet, or whatever) that is actually talking to THEM.  If it turns and addresses them, they listen and they remember.  So when the multi-racial group of do-gooders (seriously, they just need the indian kid to make Captain Planet), turn and tell your kid that bears like to dance to magical music to avoid falling snowballs . . . they’re going to freaking believe it!

In all seriousness, I wholly believe these shows to be more damaging than the “violent” ones I grew up with.  Yeah, sure He-Man was battling Skeletor, and we all knew that a sword was a weapon, but it was a story!  It was something we were watching, like a story being told to us.  There was a lesson that the character was learning and we learned it as a result.  At no point did He-Man ever turn to us and talk to us like we were idiots.  At no point did he ever turn towards us and tell us to imagine we had a sword, and to pretend fight with other people.  Sure, some of us did anyway, but at least it was us using our imaginations.

My stepson and I sat down and watched an episode of Top Gear the other day (after breaking out my violin and proving once and for all that I had no control over volcanoes).  It’s not a kids show, and I’m lucky he doesn’t understand everything they are saying.  But the fact of the matter is he asked more questions than I’ve ever heard from him before, and came away from the show being able to tell a Porsche from an Aston Martin from an Alfa Romero.

Nearly any show can be educational, so long as you watch it with them and answer any questions they have.  Sitting them down in front of brain poison and letting the TV entertain them is the surest way to raise the next generation of ignorance.

Zuke

Co-founder of Stolendroids.com and Executive Producer for Stolendroids Podcast. Also resident 'tech-head' and de-facto leader of the group.
  • zohner

    My daughter loves these Little Einstein thugs and their music instructing ways. Of course, she’s only three and so she’s their target demographic. I personally don’t like shows like this for some of the same reasons that you mention here but they are considered “educational” and actually do have some benefits. For example, I have heard certain classical tunes for years but never knew who they were composed by. After watching a few episodes, I now the names of these composers.

  • I can understand that to a degree. I wouldn’t call a show “Educational” just because they give you an Honest-To-God fact in the last 35 seconds, but I agree that she’s right in that age group where you’d expect kids to still pull something out of it that didn’t dumb them down.

    My parents just taught me music appreciation at a very young age (including composers, symphony names, styles, etc) for a couple different reasons:
    They loved classical music themselves,
    They thought I was fully capable of appreciating it at an intelligent level, and
    They raised me in a time when there wasn’t this sort of programming to parent your kids for you. It was up to them to teach me the stuff or I wouldn’t know it at all.

    They were also a little extreme when it came to pumping my head with facts. I had read “A Brief History of Time” by the time I was ten, and it wasn’t because I was brilliant.

    If your daughter is three and loves the show, I think that’s fine. If she’s 6 and still loves it and quotes it, you’re doing her a disservice by letting her watch it. Of course, that’s my opinion, and I’ve no right to tell other people how to raise kids.

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