I have a lot of faith in my daughter. I am unwilling to believe in anything but her inherent goodness, her bright future, and her unconditional love. I assume that – even at 16 months – she is smart enough to know the difference between that which is presented to her as filler and that which is presented to her genuinely.
As an example, she has no interest in 99% of children’s television. Even new episodes of Sesame Street don’t grab her attention (though she does seem to enjoy the old ones). Certainly she does not respond to loud, abrasive cartoons or “kooky” people playing jarring, low-quality kid songs on instruments that don’t look they are actually being played. Instead, Abby’s favourite thing to see on TV is a dog. She will also respond positively to cats, lemurs, and elephants, but only occasionally to marine mammals for some reason.
I’m glad that Abby is picky about what she watches. It confirms my belief that the majority of children’s television is presented cynically, as though the producers and writers think that anything with bright colours, flashing lights, and wild gesticulations will automatically be entertaining to kids. They don’t seem to believe that children can have an aesthetic sense, that they can see the difference between authenticity and affectation. If they did, the majority of today’s children’s programming wouldn’t exist.
However, a friend of mine gave me hope by introducing me to Yo Gabba Gabba, a show on Nick Jr. that features real musicians playing real music for kids. It’s still fun, accessible, and silly, but it also presents itself in a way that demonstrates a deep appreciation of quality. As an example, here is The Killers singing about space.
Yo Gabba Gabba has had dozens of musical guests like this. It will definitely be a boxed set that I purchase for Abby, if for no other reason than because of MGMT’s Viking outfits:
It’s this kind of programming that gives me hope about the future of education. After showing me Yo Gabba Gabba, my friend drew the contrast between it and much of the new educational material being given to students. New textbooks and booklets are filled with garish graphics and “edgy” articles about gaming and the internet. Sample essays are presented as though students had written them, when it is painfully obvious that they were really produced by adults with little understanding of modern technology or social trends. The whole industry seems to be pushing towards inauthentic gimmicks rather than presenting quality work to kids.
Why do I have hope then?
Because all of my kids see through this crap.
It saddens me that the educational supply industry has come to see affectation and posturing as more profitable than, say, hiring professional writers and educators to make things that are worth reading, but at least it isn’t fooling the kids. Cynical teachers might think that their students are too immature to tell the difference; my experience tells me otherwise.
And, being the next generation, those kids will hopefully carry that experience with them into the real world. Hopefully they will hold on to their frustration at having to read a poorly researched article about the wonders of computers in hospitals (“They can store thousands of medical files in a single database!”) in an age where they embody electronic communication and author their own applications. Hopefully some of them will be driven to make something for the next generation to study, something that doesn’t have to try so pathetically to be relevant but instead stands on the merits of its own quality, something that is true to itself rather than trying to follow trends that it could never understand.
In the meantime, I think that I will watch Yo Gabba Gabba with my class.