RE: [Discuss-sudbury-model] tv and thinking

From: Jesse Gallagher <>
Date: Wed Dec 7 21:45:00 2005

In the spirit of making my full contribution to the
television discussion, I’ve put a few of my thoughts
on the matter together into a loosely organized
“essay”. It is my hope that this will be helpful to
those of you who are in the midst of considering or
re-considering the question of television’s place in
your families’ lives. Please do look more deeply into
this matter for more information than my simple post
to this list can or should provide.

The books I’ve already mentioned are an excellent
place to start, in my opinion. They are also just
plain great reading.

The dangers that television viewing pose are manifold.
 They range from the potential physiological damage
that the light that “projects” the TV images can visit
upon us to the psychological damage that ingesting an
artificial uniformity of images and values can wreak
upon us, and includes the neurological damage that
viewing the range and rhythym of TV images can do to
the developing brains and nervous systems of young
children. I literally cannot reproduce for this list
the full range and scope of research that supports
these assertions. Though precious little scholarly
attention had been paid to the possible negative
effects of television viewing when Jerry Mander
published his groundbreaking “Four Arguments for the
Elimination of Television” in 1978, numerous studies
have been undertaken in the years since.

Beginning with Dr. Richard Wurtman’s work on “the
effects of light on man and other mammals” (which was
published with that title in Scientific American in
1975), credentialed scholars began to address the
potential dangers and benefits of artificial light to
human beings. Wurtman, a professor of endocrinology
and metabolism at MIT, went on to co-organize the New
York Academy of Science’s landmark 1985 conference on
“The Medical and Biological Effects of Light”, papers
from which were published in a volume of the same
name, which is excellent, if dismally academic.

Scientific American published another interesting
article in 2003, entitled “TV Addiction Is No Mere
Metaphor”. Written by Robert Kubey (professor and
Director of Rutger’s Center for Media and Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi (C.S. and D.J. Davidson Professor of
Psychology at Claremont Graduate University), the
article discusses the very real dangers of physical
and psychological addiction to watching television.

Some more recent research can be found at TV Turn-Off
Weeks website,
Further googling will turn up even more information
for the data deprived.

Among the conclusions of the studies referenced above
are the following: TV viewing harms cognitive
development, TV viewing increases the risk of ADD, TV
viewing makes children as well as adults fatter, TV
viewing undermines achievement, TV viewing reinforces
sex roles and stereotyping, TV violence is mimicked by

I’m not one who tends to put too much trust in
scholarly research and studies. These are the folks,
after all, who have given us the public school system
and trickle-down economics, but you asked for it, so
you got it.

In my opinion, however, television is truly menacing
not because of it's often vacuous content and not
because of its deletrious physiological
effects--though those elements are inarguably
dangerous--but because it is the primary delivery
mechanism for the cultural engineering to which our
masters subject us. It is TV's role as manufacturer of
reality that is its greatest threat to humankind, and
though we might like to believe that we and our
children are too sophisticated to have our realities
constructed for us by a flickering glass screen fed by
a sinuous black cable, it simply isn't true. The
techniques for controlling the way humans think and
feel via the television have been refined and
perfected over decades by very smart people with lots
of time, money, and passion.

We are savvy school reformers and social critics, and
that means that we ARE sophisticated enough to have
escaped the role-making powers of some of the TV
portrayals that we've viewed, but let's not kid
ourselves--too many of us are still unlearning
"lessons" that we were fed by the TV. We've had our
values, tastes, desires, and, yes Mr. Chomsky, our
consent manufactured for us in subtle and insidious
ways that we often can't even identify.

Does anyone ever wonder how 200+ million people can
dress virtually
identically--separated by class into identifiable
strata, of course--and change dress styles almost as
simultaneously as starlings turn in flight? Talk
virtually identically--or in regional idiomatic
groups--with the latest hip terms and cool jargon?
Drive the same kinds and colors of cars--or drive cars
at all? Subscribe to the same degrading system of
"education" for their children (present company
excluded)? How and why
people stretch and contort to fit every new experience
into their existing worldview, even when that new
experience clearly and obviously contradicts elements
of their belief system?

Did this all just happen, coincidentally? Do our
realities overlap in the most self-damaging,
counter-intuitive, and surreal ways by accident? Think
about it. Much of what passes for American society is
so bizarre that its uniform hold over the hearts and
minds of hundreds of millions of people can only be by
design, and clever design at that.

Do tens of millions of people really see positive
aspects of the Bush administration, for instance, that
we don't see? Do they really have data available to
them that allows them to support the multitude
criminal acts of this group of liars, murderers, and
thieves? Or are they simply uncritically thinking,
believing, and doing what they're told by the voices
in their televisions?

Personally, I'd rather my children rolled up fat
joints and smoked them than watched television. Make
no mistake, television *is* a drug, and it is not a
sacred drug. People don't use TV to expand their
consciousness and commune with God (or Goddess, the
Great Spirit, or the universe). Almost without
exception, they use TV to escape from the emptiness,
loneliness, and meaninglessness of modern life. And
while they spend the hours in make-believe land, they
are busy absorbing and identifying with their

Not my kids, you're thinking, and you're probably
right. Your kids have the freedom to explore their
worlds and create for themselves their own realities,
by and large. Good on you. That doesn't, however, make
them immune to the sophisticated cultural engineering
that TV is.

It may be that the dangerous influence that you're not
seeing or acknowledging is nothing more than the
defining of the parameters of the social continuum in
which we find ourselves. Perhaps the very conception
of the nature of the universe that you rely upon to
make critical judgments has been shaped by television
and other mass media in ways that you're simply too
immersed in to be able to recognize.

Are the brightest among us too smart to be influenced
by the creators of the past six decades of our
collective cultural experience? Given the early age
that we likely began watching television, we would
have to be *awfully* smart.

I think I’m pretty smart *now*, but I wasn’t smart
enough when I was a young child to avoid absorbing
the values and stereotypes that were being cynically
fed to me by men and women who weren’t looking out for
my best interests. I’m still unlearning those things
today, as I am able to identify them.

But it isn't just a simple calculus of whether or not
our children are succeeding at decoding the marketing
and manipulation that drive TV. Even when they
succeed, their success is measured by the standards of
the television. They are either acting out the
instructions in the programs they view, or they are
reacting to those instructions in a way that seems
healthier and more constructive. But why limit their
experiences to one of those choices--or to a choice
that lies somewhere in the middle? Why is the
television set framing the debate?

How is TV so valuable that we need to teach our
children how to safely navigate its dangerous waters?
What do they get at the end of their arduous journey?
Entertained? Educated? Titillated?

They get exposed to whatever some clever director
decides should be seen through a small glass lens and
spliced together in a (sometimes) linear fashion to
approximate a sensory deprived and intellectually
detached experience of a portrayal of somebody else's
conception of a small part of life.

I just don't see that being worth the risk of
forgetting (or never learning) just how magnificently
rich, unpredictable, and varied the universe and all
its inhabitants really are.

I also see the destruction that TV has wrought in our
communities. I never cease to be amazed and depressed
driving at night past numberless houses stacked one
upon another down endless suburban streets, a
flickering bluish glow emanating from each and every

Why are these people sitting and staring vacantly at
evanescent images on screens instead of sitting around
tables together, drinking coffee, eating cakes, and
swapping stories while the kids run around outside and
play? Many of them are even watching the same
programs, simultaneously sharing a visual and auditory
“experience” with people who they are physically
isolated from.

Why are civic and non-profit groups struggling for
members and volunteers while the drugged masses view

Why are local artists, amateur theatrical groups, and
student musical groups lacking for audiences and
support while millions watch "reality" shows that
pander to the lowest brows that we can manage?

Robert Putnam's wonderful book Bowling Alone
highlights the disappearance of
community in America over the past 50 years, and that
disappearance has been in no small way brought about
by television.

Television, as a medium for communication, is
different than anything else that humankind has
experienced. It is a technology that is designed to
take advantage of our physiological reactions to
visual, auditory, and emotional stimuli. It literally
converses directly with our nervous system in ways
that undermine our intellect and powers of rational
thought--no matter how strong they are.

We are simply defenseless against it.

Frankly, I have a hard time understanding how
unschoolers (my crowd) and free schoolers embrace TV
so readily.

To my mind, television is the primary partner of the
public school system in the struggle to control the
thoughts and feelings of Americans.

My wife and I unschool our children for a number of
reasons, some of them similar to why we have no TV. We
don't want our children trained up as good American
consumers--apathetic, incurious, passive, powerless
consumers of information and "culture", other people’s
doodads and other peoples’ resources.

This country is already over-populated with automatons
and dopplegangers.

Unschooling goes a long way towards ensuring our
children's freedom to be
themselves. Why wouldn't we want to finish the job by
removing the "other"
insidious homogenizing influence?

I'll finish with one of my favorite--of the many
brilliant--Calvin and Hobbes comic strips:

Calvin and Hobbes are sitting in front of the
television and Calvin says "Karl Marx said that
religion is the opiate of the masses. What does that

In the next panel, Calvin is turned back reverently to
the TV screen and Hobbes observes wryly, as ever, "It
means he hadn't seen anything yet."

Best to all,


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Received on Wed Dec 07 2005 - 21:44:32 EST

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