Saturday, 25 July 2009

Teach our kids to be makers and not just consumers

I came across this documentary while looking at the Future Craft Collective web site (if you haven't seen it , you need to take a look!

If this trailer doesn't load, then go to this youtube link

I am not sure what is more disturbing about this documentary, the fact that there is evidence of the damage hyper-commercialization does to our children and the way their thinking develops or that as an educator I knew it all along and I have subconsciously ignored it, or told myself that it is was an over reaction. In Australia the hot topic at the moment is the hyper-sexualisation of children through advertising and the concept of the "tween" market, I see it every day when I teach.

Watching this documentary, I am pleased that we limit the amount of time I take Tori to the shops and that we don't religiously allow her to watch "free to air". When Tori gets old enough to make her own things, I want to encourage her to be a maker and not a consumer. The Future Craft Collective Blog has lots of ideas on what you can do with your kids (other than watch TV and play video games).

People that market to the "youth market" work hard at creating opportunities to manipulate, the fact that "kids under 8 cannot understand the manipulative nature of advertising" means that it will be harder for us Tori gets older. It scares me that in America, it is ocially acceptable for 5 year olds to have manicure/pedicure parties. *shudders* I wonder how long it will take us

The one area that the documentary did not touch upon was the presence of Technology in schools and the fact that companies such as Microsoft, Toshiba, IBM and NEC have known for years that if they get "into" schools early, then students will be "branded" at an early age. They did talk about "educational technology" products for toddlers and young children, the decision is basically another branding exercise disguised as educational claims that don't stick. Companies such as Baby Einstein sound great, but this documentary claims it is a scam. There is no solid scientific research to support the use of media with infants and toddlers. It is more effective to read to your child rather than get them to watch a Baby Einstein video.

Schools do not think twice of putting Microsoft products on their school computers or accept funding from Intel to run programs, but they question McDonald's if they want to run their tuck-shop. Schools need to expose kids to different operating systems, software packages and "teach them to be makers", teach them to evaluate, teach them that they have choice in what they use and how they use it.

As for parents, what sub-conscious branding statements do you make to your children? Most of my Year 7 students turn up on the first day of school with iPods, mobile phones and on casual dress days you see the brand jeans, make-up and handbags. It is not unusual for Year 7 students (12,13 years) to be watching R rated movies (generally bootleg movies) with their parents blessing. We often say that at the start of the year we start with a class of Grade 6 kids and then at the end of Year 7 we are luck if half the class are still Year 7's. Most have grown up so fast during that first year and have been exposed to so much "older" material then they really should be.

This topic is not new. A few years back my husband read a book called Growth Fetish by Clive Hamilton, similar subject, scary research. Another documentary that I want to hunt up is Affluenza by PBS.

What are your thoughts on this topic?


Jennie said...

One of those tv show clips looked like the old series of Clueless (ie almost 10 years old?). I know the movie was written in a tongue-in-cheek, "isn't wealth ridiculous" way but I'm not sure about the tv show. And kids under the age of 14 or 15 are yet to develop irony detectors, so if they see comedic characters speaking ironically about how important looks and popularity are, they're not going to realise it's a joke.

I think one of the important ways to broaden a kid's perspective beyond the blatant consumerism of ads and merchandise-driven cartoons is to explore older texts with them. Read them Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and play at a life where you have to make everything from your house to your cheese (without the pi butchering part). Read or watch Lord of the Rings and pretend to be on a quest where you can only carry what you need to survive. Pretending to create, or creating together, is one way to foster the value of life-long craftiness and creation.

Nikki said...

I fear how insidious branding has become, and with the explosion in communication technology I have HUGE fears about what it'll be like for my wee one when she's a tween and teen. At 3 she can recognise more brands and logos than words. Although when an ad comes on tv she says things like "They're trying to sell us [insert product]".... I hope her awareness continues.

Bernadette said...

Love your enthusiastic post! And thanks for the link. Check out our info on our back to school clothes swap coming up. No shopping, just swapping!

Bernadette said...

P.S. I also just got a chance to peruse your blog and I LOVE it. So glad you found us so that we could find you too.