Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] variations on the model in practice

From: Todd Pratum <>
Date: Wed Apr 6 22:45:00 2005
It is hard for me to believe that Sudbury people leave the choice of TV up to the kid, say it isn't so!  But for all those who question the effect TV has on people, (children and adults), I can recommend a tour de force of such clarity and honesty that you will wonder why it is not on the shelf of every educator, namely Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (cheap on the internet used at biggest book site in the world).  Scientific studies and cultural observations are beautifully blended together in this enjoyable book (with good Jewish humor too!).   Although the book was published in 1978, it has long been considered the classic analysis on the subject and has never gone out of print.  

However, for those like myself who view TV not just as a conduit for junk culture, but as an invasive force that children are unable to protect themselves against, then I can recommend another classic, Television As an Instrument of Terror: Essays on Media & Popular Culture, by Arthur Berger, still in print after nearly 25 years.  I would also recommend books by Neil Postman, one of our greatest media critics, especially his The Disappearance of Childhood, which is a good introduction to the highly sophisticated psychological and sociological sciences that are employed by big business to mold children into better consumers.  Both Mander and Postman make it clear that children under the age of 9-10 cannot, in general, think critically and are therefore unable to fend off the tricks used by thousands of highly paid psychologists who work for children's departments in advertising agencies. 

In my opinion TV will never change, only get worse, (witness the fact that after all these years of diabetes and obesity they still pack every cartoon show with commercials for frosted flakes and the like).  But the most interesting question regarding TV, the question of whether we can actually learn anything meaningful from it, is explored in one of the most important books I have ever read (no exaggeration), Jerry Mander's In the Absences of the Sacred.  The Failure of High Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (i.e. all native peoples of the world).  This is a monumental study that took him 13 years to write.  The essence of the book is that high technology takes us away from nature, and the Earth, and that without this connection we are doomed, (just as native peoples all over the world have been warning us for hundreds of years).  No nature documentary can replace the actual experience, and according to Mander it is a myth that TV can inspire you to go into nature, or to fight for its preservation.  I think the continued destruction of the natural world coupled with the rise in TV watching is evidence of the veracity of this argument.  I apologize for the length of this email!   Todd Pratum.

Richard Berlin wrote:
Yes, Rich, it sure does - if I can find time I shall have to find the
newsweek article of which I speak....because of course my sense is that the
AAP is always quite conservative in their opinions, and so this particular
statement likely does not accurately reflect the information found in the

That's interesting.  I don't think the AAP is consistently conservative--at least if I understand how you're using the term.  (As the husband of a Bradley childbirth instructor, I frequently research prenatal and pediatric topics, by the way, reading the original research papers whenever feasible.)

For example, the AAP recommendation on breastfeeding is a very long way from the norm:

    six months of exclusive nursing
    nursing for at least a year
    continuing the nursing relationship for as long as it is
        mutually desired by mother and child
    mother and infant sleeping in proximity

I could go on, but you ought to get the idea--unless you are surrounded by "attachment parents" these practices are well outside the norm.  The AAP recommendations are medically safe, but they are socially somewhat controversial.  So I would say that in this case the AAP is clearly *leading* the pack rather than following it, and not worrying about rocking the boat a little.  Unless, as I said earlier, I'm misconstruing what you mean by conservative....

Interestingly--and this brings us back to the original topic of discussion, I hope--the AAP is on a push to encourage evidence-based medicine.  For a definition, see

The basic idea is that intuition, anecdotal evidence and unsubstantiated theoretical models are insufficient grounds for making clinical decisions (especially clinical *policy* decisions, I would think).  In essence, the AAP is trying to teach its membership to seek out, understand and weigh all available evidence, rather than tuning out information that conflicts with what they already believe and basing their actions on the one-sided picture that results.

It seems to me that by your own admission you are not listening to all the evidence...

..anyway, I guess we can be convinced of anything by others' "real"
information and true experience, we still end up relying on what our heart
(and head!) says to us is true, at least for us.  So it is for me with
television and video games, and I emphasize that I am talking about young
children here, not pre-teens and older.

...and that is why I earlier claimed a sacrifice of credibility.  (Credibility with me, anyway.)  You are knowingly ignoring evidence that doesn't fit your presupposed conclusion and acting as if there's nothing wrong with that.

For the record, I think that television causes many problems.  (In our house I am pretty sure it contributes to obesity, for example.)  But the scientific evidence is mixed, not one-sided.  Because some of it points clearly to the quality of the content--not the mere act of watching a box with flashing pictures--and because many of the studies are able to show CORRELATION but not CAUSATION, it is simplistic, fallacious, and disingenuous to claim that television is "bad for the brain" or "contributes to attention disorders" as you asserted originally.

By all means, start without a TV.  But if you prohibit it a priori, I'm guessing that eventually one of your delightfully intelligent, confident students--who has taught herself how to read, use Google, and possibly even evaluate the design of scientific studies--will wave a ream of evidence overhead as she argues at School Meeting or Assembly that you've made an arbitrary, nonsensical restriction.

That would mark a success in Sudbury model education, wouldn't it?


-- Rich

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Received on Wed Apr 06 2005 - 22:44:52 EDT

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