Søren Kierkegaard famously pointed out that the only way we can understand life is backwards – we are compelled to…
“The image is the great instrument of instruction. What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it. If nine-tenths of the energy at present directed towards making the child learn certain things were spent in seeing that the child was forming proper images, the work of instruction would be indefinitely facilitated.” John Dewey, from the pamphlet My Pedagogic Creed, published in 1897.
How important is formal education for a child’s development? Apparently a lot, if you consider the amount spent on sending children to private schools.
In Britain, private schooling for 14 years costs parents £286,000 (USD$400,000) per child, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Educating a child in an Australian private school costs much the same (USD$411,000); in the US or Canada tuition fees for one child will add up to around USD$300,000. It’s clear that private schooling today is a hefty outlay, even for the rich.
But the type of instruction children receive during the day is playing a less significant role in their overall education, according to statistics from Nielsen.
The research firm reports that while children in the US spend 900 hours a year immersed in the school curriculum, a total of 2,500 hours each year are spent studying the media curriculum – including 1,500 hours examining the television. In other words, the media is by far the leading educator of children today.
The media’s standardised content does not discriminate between rich and poor, giving all children an equal start in life. For instance, by the time the average child finishes primary school they will have watched over 8,000 murders on television. By age 18, thanks to media school, a young adult will have witnessed 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence.
In addition to murders, another compulsory subject for children is sex. Two out of three television shows include sexual content, and over 58 per cent of youths aged 14 to 17 report having seen a pornographic website.
“Between the ages of three and eighteen, the average American youngster will see about 500,000 television commercials, which means that the television commercial is the single most substantial source of values to which the young are exposed,” writes Neil Postman in The End of Education. Washington University notes that 100,000 of these advertisements watched by US teens are likely to be advertisements for beer.
So it seems that alcohol, sex, and murder are the subject majors for children studying the media curriculum. Before the advent of television and the Internet, violence, drug abuse, murder, and random sex acts were witnessed only by children of the unfortunate few: those from drug-addicted homes or violent neighbourhoods.
Today, all children major in these topics – regardless of how their parents bring them up or how much of the family fortune is invested in school fees.
From the Education edition of New Philosopher, click here to buy a copy of the print edition.