I was recently in a small taco shop getting a quick dinner. I went in to sit down wanting a few minutes to read the latest on my Kindle reader. As I sat there, my attention was attracted to a group of gabbling young mothers, all eating and talking a mile a minute. Next to them at a different table sat three little girls all about three, four and five years old. The girls were supposed to be eating but each one of them sat glued to a small Gameboy/cell phone that was playing games. The little girls were not talking to each other, to the adults or even eating much. I was shocked.
I mean, yes, I have my Kindle but, then again, I’m not five with a group of other kids. Where is the playing, talking and interaction these kids need to grow up? One little girl had not even touched her food and the mother was so busy talking, she didn’t even notice. Yea Gods! What is our society coming to? I am afraid to think.
11/10/2015 11:06 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2016
Education vs. Edutainment
By Bobby George
Somewhere along the way, our culture adopted the idea that learning wasn’t fun – that to inspire children, we needed to entertain them. We needed to stimulate their interests and reward them for their efforts. It didn’t matter if they accomplished the task, or were even inspired by the activity, just so long as they were happily entertained.
What this path misunderstands, which is a key observation that the Italian educator Maria Montessori offered, is that children are born naturally inquisitive. You don’t have to force them to learn – and, most importantly, you don’t have to sugar coat their successes, any more than their failures. Children inherently, one could say biologically, see the world as an opportunity to discover their interests.
Theories abound about how this shift toward what is loosely called “edutainment” happened, and how it has been fully incorporated into our cultural consciousness.
First, with the advent of television, and other forms of mass media, some claim we witnessed an unprecedented rise in consumerism. Children, once but a Wall Street oversight, were quickly understood to be the fastest way into the family pockets.
Marshal McCluhan, for his part, highlighted the fact that it wasn’t even so much the content, or even the consumption, that mattered with mass media. Instead, it was how children were transfixed by the medium itself. With movement and light, new medias projected upon childhood an array of perceptions by which to view the kaleidoscope of life. Shiny and bright, something was a foot.
Second, others conjectured, perhaps more alarmingly, which is not to say more seriously, that the excessive infant mortality rates at the turn of the twentieth-century directly contributed to us, as adults, lavishing our children with unabated gifts and praise. . ..
In J.G. Ballard’s autobiography, Miracles of Life, he tellingly writes:
“My parents had been born in the first decade of the 20th century, long before antibiotics and public health concerns for vitamin-enriched foods, clean air and water. Childhood, for families of any income, was a gamble with disease and early death. …”
What this insight reveals, as a snapshot in a time that remains all-too-present for some, is that there was a sense in which the greatest accomplishment of childhood was simply – or not so simply – making it out of childhood.
Now, there’s an alternative path, a third way, which may be directly related to the industrialization of education and provide an adequate solution to our inquiry. Which is to say, it may very well hold the secret to why “edutainment”, or the idea that children need to be entertained to learn, became the prevailing mode of engagement with children – not only from parents, but also from our institutions.
What are our expectations of childhood?
Here, we take a lesson from the French philosopher Roland Barthes. In Mythologies, a collection of articles written to express our tendency as a society to create modern myths based on our social values, Barthes laments, “All the toys one commonly sees are essentially a microcosm of the adult world”.
His point is rather profound.
When toys are created by adults, they often betray the novelties of childhood. When toys are manufactured, with overly specific outcomes in mind, they actually limit that sense of discovery that exploration affords.
What we lost was the ability to pursue your own interests, and what we gained was the idea that we needed to entertain children to make them want to learn.
What makes Maria Montessori so relevant to this conversation, both historically and as a contemporary. . . It placed an emphasis, not on adulthood, but on the experiences of childhood. On following the interests of children, instead of trying to fabricate them through overstimulation.
If we are to take children seriously, and not just apply the model of edutainment to education, it will be with a realignment of the ways in which we think about learning itself. Maybe we can start by listening to our children.
Follow Bobby George on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bobbyjgeorge
CEO at Montessorium
Good article by Bobby George on the ‘need’ to entertain children. The idea of edutainment has clearly spilled over into the school system where more and more teachers and administrators are killing themselves finding new ways to keep their students entertained.
A couple of major points missed in this article and obvious to our society is the advent, across the nation and the world, of more effective birth control. In my life time, the number of children in an average family has dropped from eight, to four, to two and then to singles. Many families today have one or two children only and four is considered ‘large’. Obviously, with much, much smaller families, the emphasis on the remaining children becomes more intense. Each child now is more important than ever before because there are fewer of them per family. Think of China with the One Child only rule that was in place for years and years.
Clearly, the remaining children are treated like the little Prince or Princess their family feels them to be. Therefore, the happiness of each child becomes more critical to his or her parent and a domino effect is created all the way down the line.
Additionally, due to the rising cost of living, more and more families have two parents working as opposed to one parent working as was common before the 70’s. The working mother syndrome involves a lot of guilt for not being there at home with the kids. This results in guilt buying of more stuff to compensate. So it goes, round and round.
There is no clear evidence that kids get anything more out of life by being showered with stuff. There is a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise. Since it certainly doesn’t look like the cost of living is going to go down anytime soon, with two working parents; it is time parents and school personnel re-evaluate the entire concept of edutainment with our children and students.