A couple weeks ago, I published a piece frustrated about the direction that early childhood education has moved in recent years. Despite plenty of research on the benefits of play- based learning and the importance of social skills over academics, educators are being forced by increasingly early government-mandated standards and testing requirements to push academic concepts sooner.
Apparently they are not the only ones ignoring the research.
Sesame Street, which has been a fairly important player in the history of early childhood education in the United States, has a new CEO, Mr. Jeffery Dunn. When asked by the Wall Street Journal his take on very young children, including infants and screen time, this is what he said:
"Media is a part of our lives. Our role is to make media appropriate for the age group it's designed for. You do kids a disservice if you don't recognize the world had fundamentally changed and technology is going to be a part of their lives from the earliest moment." (Wall Street Journal from Wednesday, April 8, 2015 p. B7)
Really Mr. Dunn?
I feel like the AAP and all of the other organizations that have come out incredibly strongly against any screen time for infants and strong limits for very young children are probably not trying to disadvantage our youth by keeping them away from screens. In fact, they have really solid, research-based reasons for discouraging any screen time use for children and limiting it for older kids. They aren't just trying to be annoying and pretend we all still live in 1853.
Granted Sesame Street stopped being a leader in early childhood education years and years ago, but no one told them or the parents that. It's supposed to be the gold standard for programming, right? The model that all other programs seek to follow. Sesame Street was designed to help bridge achievement gaps for underprivileged children by using media to help catch them up. Get that? The show was designed to use television help the poor kids ladies and gentlemen...it was a since they don't have access to high quality preschool programs maybe we can do this instead option. They created a free option for families who couldn't afford preschool. It was a grassroots effort and it absolutely positively impacted early education at the time.
Over time, as preschool has become more widely available, Sesame Street has become a platform for social and political statement making more than a mode for learning the ABCs and 123s. Celebrity cameos have become motivating factors for getting parents to encourage their children to see who will be on the next episode. Of course, thanks to the internet and social media...it's probably not even a surprise anymore.
Truth be told, it has never been a show my kids were even remotely interested in watching. Probably because by the time they were old enough to be allowed an hour long show they were way outside the target audience.
Silly me trying to deny them a jump start on the technology of the day.
In many ways, the commercialization of early childhood is happening because early childhood is clearly for sale. Everyone wants to be the next big hit in educational programming for young children because they know it is a huge money market. Parents are worried their children won't be ready for kindergarten, partially because the government is constantly telling us they won't be. I saw a picture the other day listing the goals of preschool as including the ability to sit still and pay attention for 20 minutes. TWENTY minutes????? ....hello ADHD 'crisis'.....
Parents will absolutely spend money on anything, including any show, that might give their child an advantage and because "it's good for them" The parents will ignore what they have been told about screen time again and again.
No one can pretend they haven't heard it.
But they will.
And Mr. Dunn and those like him will make a bundle in the process.
Then again, what do I know... I get my news from a newspaper.