Monday, July 31, 2006

Plugged-In Drug

J and her friends learnt some basic Japanese thanks to Miss W, their teacher at daycare from Okinawa. There was nothing formal about her method but all the kids learnt quite rapidly. She had taught them songs about colors and numbers besides the Japanese equivalent for commonly used words.

Soon after Miss W left, the kids started to forget what they had learnt from her. A year later J does not have the slightest recollection of Japanese. The early exposure to a foreign language had an unexpected side effect (maybe it is entirely expected and I am uninformed) - J wants to learn other languages besides English. She is eager to relearn Bengali, sing along with old Hindi songs and speak Spanish because her friend Anna knows how to.

I got her the Language Tree DVD - Spanish for Kids from the library hoping she could learn from it. J is an anachronism in her day and age given that there is not a TV in the household or any electronic toys. The occasional DVD she watches on my laptop is the sum total of her media immersion. She was very pleased with the Spanish learning DVD and did learn a few things watching it.

However, she was not demonstrating her characteristic desire to absorb everything the very first time. Miss W never had to repeat the Japanese word for the color red. J paid attention and got it right away. With her ability to replay the DVD as many times as she wishes, her incentive to focus and retain was non-existent.

By the time we were on volume 2, she seemed more interested in the replays than in learning. When I asked her to teach me what she had learnt she said "I need to watch it again, because I forget the moment its over. You need to watch it yourself and learn" Back in the time of Miss W, she would have never said that - I was force fed Japanese every evening after we got home.

I have been reading "The Plug-In Drug" by Marie Winn where she talks about how television impairs the cognitive abilities of the children. First published in 1977 and revised recently, much of the problems from back then are still completely relevant. She quotes sociologist Urie Bronfenbrenner as saying:

"Like the sorcerer of old, the television set casts its magic spell, freezing speech and action, turning the living into silent statues for as long as the enchantment lasts. The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces - although there is danger there - as in the behavior it prevents: the talks, the games, the family festivities and arguments through which much of the child's learning takes place and through which his character is formed. Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms children into people"

The DVD played in auto-replay mode stands in for the absent TV in our home and its effects on J were as deleterious as Bronfenbrenner describes. Under the "sorcerer's" spell, my otherwise alert and eager to learn child had been transformed to a zoned out zombie. Needless to say, her Spanish lessons taught by the friendly Senor Language Tree, have been deferred for a while - muchísimas gracias.


Priyamvada_K said...

I share your thoughts on the TV. Kamala gets to watch cartoons for a couple hours over the weekend.

I feel too much TV watching prevents families from building relationships, and from people developing/continuing their reading habits.

More alarming is the recent tendency of parents and children having their own TVs in their own rooms. Talk about little islands under one roof!


Heartcrossings said...

Hi Priya,

I guess children will soon have their independent suite inside the house so they won't need to make the obligatory appearance at the dining table :)

ggop said...

And every family will be like the Royal Tannenbaums :-)