They watch us all the time. The students, that is. They listen to us sometimes. They learn from all that watching and listening.
–Theodore and Nancy Faust Sizer, The Students are Watching, 1999, Beacon Press
The Sizers wrote about classrooms and schools, explaining that students learn from what their teachers do and say and also from the things their teachers do not do or say. The authors illustrated their points in many ways, demonstrating how much our students learn from the things we do not do.
I read the Sizer’s book in the later 1990s with my growing child at home, so it was easy to see how the lessons applied not just to teachers but also to everyday family life. The message — that children learn from what we don’t do and don’t say as much as from the things we intentionally teach — applies well at home and at school.
This week, with so many media-rich events, I thought about the Sizers’ book. Adults spent a huge amount of time-consuming news about superstorm Sandy, the election, and for a few minutes, many of us gazed at a viral short video of a little girl crying out “No more Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney.” We encountered non-stop negative television commercials, disaster pictures and videos, television news programs, robo telephone calls, radios tuned into programs all day long (yes, I am guilty of keeping NPR on most of the day when I am home), and plain old-fashioned magazines and newspapers. Lot’s of us may have felt like crying. But my question is, “Why did Abby hear or see so much that she started to cry?”
We consume media two ways — directly by paying close attention or indirectly, letting media reside in the background as we go about daily activities. The children in our lives most likely do not get to choose — in general they come along for the ride in our media environment. It’s my hunch that this week many children learned a fair number of media lessons indirectly — by watching and listening to the media that plays in homes and cars. What did they learn from all of this listening and watching?
Access to media has changed the way kids look at and think about elections. Lots of learning has occurred, but not through formal lessons. This is the first time — in my 30-some years as a teacher — that many of the children I know are simply not interested in the kid-friendly facts about the candidates. Students could not care less about the presidential candidates’ favorite sports, what their parents did, what subject they liked in school, or what food they enjoy the most. Instead many children make sarcastic, adult-like jokes about the candidates and talk about the advertisements on television.
The children are watching and listening, but what are they learning?