“Programming” is what it does to YOU

I recently finished reading Rafe Esquith’s Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World. Teachers might recognize Esquith as the author of another book:


Apparently Esquith is a bit of a pyro.

He’s clearly an amazing dude. Unfortunately, I guess, he’s also a SuperTeacher – you know the type. Hollywood, in particular, is quite taken with the superhuman teacher (see Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, etc.), a  problem that has been brought up more than once, but perhaps best by Tom Moore of the New York Times:

No, the most dangerous message such films promote is that what schools really need are heroes. This is the Myth of the Great Teacher.

Films like “Freedom Writers” portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.

Her behavior is not represented as obsessive or self-destructive, but driven — necessary, even…. In order to be a good teacher, she has to be a hero. [article]

Esquith is one of these hero teachers who devotes his life to his kids – and no one can fault him that. It’s just that it gives the world the wrong idea. Most of us can’t give that much of ourselves. It raises the question – how exactly does he suggest we teach like our hair’s on fire, without burning out?

ltf But that’s not what this book was about. It wasn’t written for teachers, but for parents, and the gist of the book was that we (as a society) are raising our kids pretty badly. And after I got done being irritated at him for perpetuating the myth of the hero teacher, I fell in love with (most) of Lighting Their Fires.

Particularly the part about screen time.

I can’t even begin to express how much I loath computer games/video games. I totally get that there are positives to their use: problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, military training/recruitment, and entertainment. But the negatives I can collect would require their own blog post. As regards this entry, games screw with kids’ attention spans, waste their time, and wreak havoc on their literacy by undermining their ability to visualize and get taken in by the written word.

And then there’s television. And here’s where my stomach starts to flip a little.

I did not grow up as a TV-watcher. We didn’t have the every-channel-under-the-sun cable plan, and in fact, we only had the Disney channel when they had their free preview weeks around Christmas break. No MTV, no HBO. We weren’t sports watchers, nor were sitcoms a part of our lives. I watched your usual kid shows, both when I was little and then while my little sister was a preschooler. I preferred Dumbo’s Circus to The Simpsons, which even as a middle schooler I found to be inappropriate for children.

(Okay, and I just got the biggest warm-fuzzy EVER from watching that.)

Anyway, I thought that an awful lot of people were screwing up their lives by spending them in front of the boob tube. One of the first things I did in college kill your televisionwas to put a “kill your television” bumper sticker on my dorm room door. I was one of the only people in my dorm – even as an honor’s dorm – without a TV in her room. I wasn’t radical about it; honestly, I could care less what anyone else did with their spare time. But being eighteen and all college-y, I wanted others to know how counter-culture I was being by promoting teeveecide.

Three years later, the Mr-to-be and I got to know each other on his sofa in front of The West Wing. What a great show – the sort of show that justifies television. If more programming was like that, there’d be fewer teeveecidal freshmen in the world. But from watching WW we went to watching West Wing and Trading Spaces, and from there added another show, and another. The Mr. had been raised with television, and I didn’t put up much of a fight.

Today, I feel like our lives consist of work and television. And it’s an addiction. I hate it so much, and yet I love it. Which show to stop watching? The competition reality shows are the ones that really devour me; I feel strong about cutting out TV until Project Runway or Top Chef starts up again. And don’t get me wrong; I feel like these sorts of shows have some sort of redeeming value. There’s a certain amount of educational value as well as entertainment with that sort of show. Perhaps not so much with American Idol, which I also adore – and then we start getting into Glee…. And how could I fall asleep without listening to Jon Stewart as I get ready for bed?


I want to raise my kids, whenever they come into my life, the way I was raised. I want them to want to read instead of watch cartoons or push buttons. I’m not sure the Mr. will agree. Then again, when we got married, we locked horns over whether or not to have any hard alcohol in the house (with kids) – and now I think he feels the same as I do. So maybe by the time it’s an issue, we’ll have reached a compromise? Or maybe I’m borrowing trouble. Then again, it’s not like I’m having any more luck turning away from TV than he is. I’m not even trying.


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Some are baffled, but that one is not - that one knows me.
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