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    Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences{Chapter 5}

    August 7, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    If, last week, I was seeing parallels between Weaver and Schaeffer, this weeks I do declare that I’ve had sightings of Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan everywhere I look! It is entirely possible that Postman was channeling Weaver when he wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, if not Technopoly as well. In fact, one of the best ideas I came away with after reading Postman was that content is not all that matters when it comes to media. The idea that formatting also matters–that juxtaposing a tragic murder with a trivial deodorant commercial on the nightly news is injurious to the soul–profoundly impacted our family. That is why this jumped off the page at me {literally, Mystie–it did!}:

    [W]e are made to grow accustomed to the weirdest of juxtapositions: the serious and the trivial, the comic and the tragic, follow one another in mechanical sequence without real transition. During the recent war what person of feeling was not struck by the insanity of hearing advertisements for laxatives between announcements of the destruction of famous cities by aerial bombardment? Is it not a travesty of all sense to hear reports fraught with disaster followed by the comedy-variety with its cheap with and arranged applause…

    Ideas Have Consequences
    by Richard Weaver

    Echoes of Postman {or, more accurately, Postman’s works were echoes of Weaver} abound in this chapter. Weaver is talking about the radio, while Postman is concerned about television, and I’m sure we’re all dying to know what they’d think of the internet!

    Neil Postman is the reason there is not a television in our living room. He’s the reason that the media doesn’t have open access to our home. Once per week, Si and I rent a movie. One a month or so, we watch a movie with the two older children. I know the children watch cartoons and videos at their grandparents and, to my chagrin, at church events.

    There is, however, a lot of internet in our house. The children do not have “screen time,” but it is not unusual for Si to show them a YouTube video. This doesn’t bother me–now that all of the children are over two, I’m not an absolutist about these things {yes, I had a mental cutoff age of two–no video anything before two was my rule of thumb}.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. As much as this started as a deliberate, conscious decision, it is now simply normal to us. We don’t think about it. It’s not a choice we make over and over. I am sometimes struck by the size or amount of televisions in other homes, but that is because I am completely unaccustomed to how most other members of our culture live!

    I like how we live. I always wanted to build a vibrant family culture. Family culture is, in many ways, about how we spend our time. For every hour that we do not watch a show, we are spending it reading or playing or whatever. And honestly I feel so busy in the evenings–there is such a short amount of time between when Si returns home and when bedtime needs to happen–that I don’t know how we would manage to really connect with each other if we had screens on. I even turn off the radio when Si comes home because I know I cannot really listen to him with it on.

    Okay, so enough about television and movies, says the hypocrite woman typing on a computer. He he.

    Education and Technology

    Probably the biggest danger in a technological society is the mindset it tends to nurture. The things in our lives–the gadgets and gizmos–exist to serve us and make our lives more convenient. All of these different gadgets, from an iPhone to a home security camera, serve a purpose that means that, without them, we almost seem at a loss. That alone can shore up our natural self-centeredness! In addition to this, a diet full of television, video games, and yes, even the internet, can encourage the habit of being entertained. Have you ever seen a child who literally did not know what to do without something flashing to look at? I have, and it is very sad. But it is the logical outcome of hours per day of entertainment.
    The problem is that, according to a number of teachers I’ve talked to, children are now entering kindergarten with this mindset. And then the teachers are trained to capitalize on it. The teachers need to figure out how to gain and maintain the children’s attention, and they do this using by making what Charlotte Mason called an undue play upon the child’s natural desires. They may bribe and coerce using some sort of ticket or sticker or bucks system. They may enslave children to their magnetic personalities, causing them to desire approval from their teacher. They may use antics and videos to gain their attention.

    All of this undercuts the love of knowledge for its own sake, by the way.

    So the children come to school poised to be entertained, and the school trains the teachers to reinforce this. At least, this is what local teachers have told me, and my hunch is that it is generally true. My hunch is that the teachers are also very tired of this sort of hamster wheel approach to learning; they are, after all, the hamster.
    Weaver begins his chapter by saying that the main problem with all of the problems {yes, it is possible to have problems with problems} that he discussed in the previous chapters is disintegration, fragmentation. The culture hangs in shreds when its foundation is slipped out from under it, and those in charge find that they have a great need to figure out how to keep it all together.

    These leaders adopted the liberal’s solution to their problem. That was to let religion go but to replace it with education, which supposedly would exercise the same efficacy. The separation of education from religion, one of the proudest achievements of modernism, is but an extension of the separation of knowledge from metaphysics. And the education thus separated can provide their kind of indoctrination.

    Weaver goes on to say that while this can happen in the classroom, there is a much easier way to educate our culture in the way the leaders want it to go:

    [T]he education which best accomplishes their purpose is the systematic indoctrination from day to day of the whole citizenry through channels of information and entertainment.

    This is why Wendell Berry likened the television to a giant tube pumping meaning out of the home. He knew that homes once had a culture and passed it on lovingly to the next generation, and all of that culture was pumped out of the home when the television was turned on. Or, as Weaver would say, when the radio was turned on.

    I don’t mean this to argue for no-media-at-any-time, but if you have never thought about the fact that the media in a child’s diet forms his worldview, or as Weaver so eloquently puts it, his metaphysical view of the world, now is the time to have just such a thought.

    [T]he beliefs which underlie virtually every movie story are precisely the ones which are hurrying us on to perdition. The entire globe is becoming imbued with the notion that there is something normative about the insane sort of life lived in New York and Hollywood–even after that life has been exaggerated to suit the morbid appetite of the thrill-seeker.

    The media surrounding our children in some way define what is normative for them, especially if we never say anything to cause them to become thoughtful about it.

    Lesson One: The media to which we expose our children is an education, and we should approach it with as much care as we do when we choose the various curricula for their formal education.

    But there is another lesson I want to draw out before I go, and that is based upon a small nugget of truth I found nestled in the chapter:

    If the realization of truth is the product of a meeting of minds, we may be skeptical of the physical ability of the mechanism to propagate it…

    If education is meant to bring about this realization of truth, and realizing truth requires a “meeting of minds” then we just might have a problem if our education depends mostly upon special projects, educational movies, and “learning” video games.

    Obviously, we can take that last sentence and run too far with it, and also not all gadgets are created equal. Whereas a Kindle most definitely can facilitate a meeting of minds, iPads and Skype are going to require more diligence in order to make that happen.

    Just remember: a child watching Baby Einstein is actually getting stupider.

    Lesson Two: Not all technologies purported to assist in education are actually fostering a meeting of minds or an ascertaining of truth.

    Of course, not all textbooks are either, so buyer beware.

    Read More:
    More book club entries linked at Mystie’s blog
    Buy the book and join in the conversation!

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  • Reply Pilgrim August 9, 2012 at 12:11 am

    My brother went to visit his local elementary school, which is in a good school district, and found that most of the rooms were watching videos. It was Friday afternoon in the Spring – but still. This is why he decided to send his kiddos to a private classical school.

    I can help keep my kids out of the stream of media but I don’t know how to help them relate to those who can ONLY talk about what they have seen or heard recently. I see this abyss only growing wider and I am not sure how to help offer a bridge across it. Any thoughts??

    You also pulled out some quotes that I forgot were in there. Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts August 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      To be honest, we haven’t encountered too many people who ONLY talk about pop culture–though I know they are out there! My first thought is that no matter what we do, there will be people we have trouble connecting with or don’t have things in common with. My second thought is that before our children leave home I want to teach them to have an intelligent conversation about media items–articles, videos, movies, whatever. They don’t need to see everything or read everything, but I want them to get it and be able to discuss it intelligently–and even enjoy some of it. It isn’t all bad. I just don’t think this is necessary or even helpful in EARLY childhood. Also, I have encountered some older children who read books they normally wouldn’t (Harry Potter or Percy Jackson come to mind) just so they will have something to talk about with peers they interact with. That is an option.

      For boys, I think the ability to engage in a pickup basketball game covers a multitude of sins. 🙂

      Maybe there is a more experience parent out there reading this who can chime in. I have only been at this for 10 years and still have lots to learn…

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