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

From: Kenneth Winchenbach Walden <>
Date: Wed Dec 7 23:41:12 2005

Jesse Gallagher wrote:

> 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.

I agree with some of the points in your post, and disagree with others.
I think you overstate the influence of television. As for the point you
make in the above paragraphs, I think it is not accurate to suggest that
these things are a result of TV's influence. These are the influence of
society, and sound very similar to how human societies have functioned
for much of history. Yes, TV and other new communication technologies
have increased the reach of society, so that all of America, and
increasingly the world, are a part of the same society, instead of many
smaller ones. But it is society which in general encourages uniform
behavior and thinking, not TV. I have not heard anything to suggest that
people were more capable of being individual or free-thinkers in the
days before TV. Our current society is likely no more and no less
repressive than societies of the past. What TV has helped provide is
fewer, larger uniform societies, instead of many smaller societies, each
just as internally uniform.

> 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?

I don't think you'll get too far assuming that everybody that might
agree with you about television also share your political views. I agree
that our society does not encourage critical thinking skills.

> Almost without
> exception, they use TV to escape from the emptiness,
> loneliness, and meaninglessness of modern life.

Statements like this are powerful rhetorically, but how do you know this
is so? Sure it sounds good, but it's not going to convince me of your

> 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.

Again, I don't think there's anything new about children being
indoctrinated in cultural stereotypes. That has been one of the main
pursuits of education in its broader cultural sense for thousands of
years. When you move through the past, away from TV, you do not start
seeing less and less stereotyping or indoctrination.

> 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?

People on this list have argued before that the thing that's more
important than the danger of TV is the importance of freedom and choice.
It does not matter what the value of TV is if it is what the child is
choosing. The question then is whether to trust in the choices of the
child, and some would argue that TV is not dangerous enough to undermine
the trust given to our children.

> 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.

This is a rather cynical view that ignores that TV production is an art
form as well. One could make the same statement (removing the part about
a lens) about novels, plays or visual arts. Certainly there is more than
art to TV, but that does not mean there is no art to it. And other forms
of art are more and more commercialized as well.

> 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.

The problem here is that not watching TV does not guarantee some
wonderfully rich wonderful life full of experiences. One could not watch
TV, and instead sit around and have a very unfulfilling life in which
you never encountered the thoughts of anyone outside the town you lived
in. Comparing wasted soulless TV watchers to those living wonderfully
fulfilled and rich lives is not a fair comparison. For some perhaps TV
is one of the places that they will find out about the wonderful
richness of the universe, compared to the drab environment they are
being raised in.

> 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
> window.
> 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.

I certainly agree with you about the horrible loss of community in our
culture. I live in an intentional community founded to try to establish
a way to have that community in our lives and get away from these
separate little boxes with their TVs. So I don't want you to feel I'm
arguing all of your points. I don't watch TV very often, because I
generally find more benefit in spending my time elsewhere. I think TV,
just as many technological innovations, brings changes we never
imagined. And I believe in thinking hard about the things I do with my
life. But the things I see you pointing out are bigger than television.
Our communities have been lost for a myriad of reasons, and TV may have
played its part.

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

As for the free schoolers, as I alluded to before, if one's primary
priority is to allow a child their own choice about their life, then it
makes little sense to ban TV for them.

> 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?

Maybe because our kids won't want us to. While I also struggle with the
negative influences of TV with my kids, I remember a different passage.
 From Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, where Siddhartha finally learns that
all his experiences, and all his great learning and realizations doesn't
enable him to spare his son a single one of his own struggles.

"Would you actually believe that you had committed your foolish acts
in order to spare your son from committing them too?...Which father,
which teacher had been able to protect him from living his life for
himself, from soiling himself with life, from burdening himself with
guilt, from drinking the bitter drink for himself, from finding his path
for himself? Would you think, my dear, anybody might perhaps be spared
from taking this path? That perhaps your little son would be spared,
because you love him, because you would like to keep him from suffering
and pain and disappointment? But even if you would die ten times for
him, you would not be able to take the slightest part of his destiny
upon yourself."

Ken Walden

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