May 17, 2014

Can kids learn from TV? Or, are we kidding our selves?

"Sid The Science Kid: TV" show review by COCM member Don Shifrin, M.D., F.A.A.P, as seen in the NY Times, September 1, 2008:

By Neil Genzlinger (bolding for emphasis by Don Shifrin, MD, FAAP), New York Times

"If it takes a village, then we should all be concerned about Sid. The lad is only maybe 3 or 4, but already it’s obvious that he’s headed for trouble.

Sid is the host of “Sid the Science Kid,” a series for preschoolers that begins Monday on PBS. And he has a desperate-for-attention problem that is only moderately irksome now, but when he’s older will lead him to either put those oversize tires on the back of his car or seek a career in musical theater.

PBS is employing Sid, who is animated in a process called digital puppetry, as an ambassador for what education20types might call science readiness. His show, done in that hyperactive style that adults have determined is what the very young prefer, seeks to put across the fundamentals of science.

How fundamental? The first episode is all about charts. Sid makes a chart to record how many chores he has done, since once he has done enough he will get a new Turbo Robot Megaship toy. In school he and his classmates make charts of which kid has brought what snack to school. What does this have to do with science? Well, um, scientists use charts a lot, and, uh, that’s pretty much it.

There’s no point in trying to analyze whether this show will accomplish its educational objective, because who knows, really, what speaks to small children? So the only thing to do with “Sid the Science Kid” is to ponder it as a sociological statement.

Sid is never without his toy microphone, which he is constantly yapping into or shoving in other people’s faces. He is, in other words, always performing. So are many of the other characters, including his teacher. It’s no accident that one recurring feature of the show, a joke of the day, is delivered via portholes reminiscent of the “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” wall. This is introductory science tailored for the age of self-indulgence and short attention spans.

The show bears the Jim Henson Comp any’s name, so it probably has merit. Still, it’s hard not to think that the only bearable person in this animated world is Sid’s grandmother, who points out to him that she never needed to be bribed with the promise of a new gewgaw to do her chores. Take it from Grandma, kid: Life is not your own personal TV show, and sometimes — a lot of the time, actually — you need to just sit down, shut up and do the work."

Dr. Don's 2cents:
OK, so the take on this 'new' form of PBS entertainment in the genre of Jimmy Neutron, boy genius is, inevitably, flawed.

Over and over we find that programming from toddlerhood to teens is replete with features geared to induce or is it produce short attention spans.
Note here that the great Jon Stewart started out professional life on Comedy Central's short attention span theater which ran from 1989-1994.
This is not definable learning, as no research will be done as to the impact of the 'lessons' featured, but another controversial point in the ongoing discussion about 2-D versus 3-D interactive learning.

And when these shows go 'virtually' into the digital interactive world where children can touch the screen or digitally participate in their 'learning', will it be a thoughtful, focused exercise, or will it be just more buttons to push quickly.

Already there is concern over the way children-and adults read in digital formats versus traditional reading styles. See the August issue of Atlantic Monthly where Nicolas Carr has written a 4000 word article, Is Google Making Us Stupid"?
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

Do parents see this coming, or, are they too, drowning in a sea of media that they think is well-intended to prepare and instruct their children faster and better than they ever could using past methods?
Who among us is likely to shout out at the passing parade of web, TV, DVD, and read-along devices, " the Emperor has no clothes"............