Report your assumptions

Reporters have a tough job.  They are generally idealistic youngsters who place the public good ahead of their own accumulation of wealth and safety.  They are part of a new profession that changes rapidly, especially in our hyperfast information age.

Yet they make the job even tougher on themselves when they take a large amount of baggage with them in their travels.  It’s best to travel light so that you can move quickly, get all the angles, and then get out to report the story.

I’m not talking about baggage as in a change of clothes.  Goodness knows they probably can’t afford them.  I’m talking about assumptions.  Reporters, and their editorial teams, carry a lot of those around with them without even realizing it.  It may be the single greatest reason why some reporting networks attract highly specialized audiences – because of the unvoiced assumptions.

Here’s a case in point.  A story today on NPR talked about how great Finnish children did in school based on standardized tests, compared to other nations around the world.  As soon as the reporter opened her mouth, I knew that the story was already heavily biased because the statement was “Every child gets free preschool.”

Now, in all fairness to the report, this may be the magic answer to the unasked question, what can the USA do better?  However, it already biases the story.  There are so many other factors that go into school success that focusing on any one says all the other factors aren’t as important?

Not important?  What about parental expectations and assistance?  You know what I’m talking about, Tiger moms.  What about limiting other forms of child based advertising and entertainment?  What about the fact that the Finns have a very homogenous society.

I haven’t even gotten started on the statistics part of this, yet.  It’s one thing to say they score the best, ON AVERAGE.  What about the range of variation?  Is it possible that the best in the US easily reach or outdistance the Finns?  And what about components of education that can’t be measured by today’s standardized tests?  Creativity.  Ingenuity.  Resourcefulness.  Curiosity.

Reports are in our face, telling us stories.  To tell the whole story takes a bit more work, but we’re also going to get a more accurate picture of reality.  And in the end, isn’t that what we really want?

At least, that’s what I’m going to assume.

 

 

Selling our Childhood to the highest bidder

Is it only me?  Or does anyone else out there get the sense that childhood, in general, is being coopted by corporate capitalists?

Not being big on the whole sit and watch TV for hours on end crowd, I only catch up on the popular shows when our daughter insists on watching something she knows we’ll like.  She does know us, and she does have great taste.

So we’re watching the chef known for swearing, Gordon someone, managing a reality – elimination show with kids.  The children are cooking at a professional level, and that, I confess, was very exciting.  These kids were amazing, and the foods they prepared were all scrumptious.  The kids weren’t the problem.

The problem was that the three professional chefs running the contest were being very nice, well behaved, and treating the kids politely.  But in the end, they were teaching the kids to be extremely competitive, to fear elimination for trying something extraordinary, and worst of all, teaching them how to try and eliminate each other.  The most hurtful moment for me was when Chef Gordon sits with a little girl in the balcony, asking her about her strategy, and she confesses that she keeps her friends close, but her enemies closer.

I’m not faulting Chef Gordon.  Chances are he really is a nice guy and the whole swearing thing is an act.  He may actually be a decent chef.  But he’s part of an industry that uses childhood as a resource, a resource that he is able to turn into money.  Yes, the winner got $100,000, but Chef Gordon probably earns a million from the show.  And each child, even the winner, has been subjected to forces they would otherwise have been protected from.  Do we know if those forces make them better people in the long run?

Forces you say?  What forces?

Who among you think that any of these kids saw the ads (targeting them, no doubt) asking for contestants, and said “I want to do this.”?  There may have been a few, but I’m confident that most of the ambition comes from their parent, or parents.  What kid of 8 to 13 is interested in making a hundred grand?  Typically they’ll settle for a ten, or ask for a quadrillion.

And how many of you know of parents who go crazy on their kids at sporting events?  Or go crazy on the referees or coaches? Or upon their teachers in school?  These are the same parents who only want the best for their little darlings, but heaven help the adult who gets in the way of their dreams of success.  And how do you succeed?  Any way you can.  And this is what they teach their kids.  Scheming, devious friendships, shallow relationships, and the importance of today’s reward.  There is no more great moral code, and there is no pride in yourself for only being yourself – your success will be measured by your wallet, and by the number of your online friends.

Again, it’s not the chef’s fault.  In fact, we can find suspects as far back as the mid 1900s when Walt Disney combined his film franchise (targeting youth) with an amusement part (again, targeting youth) and tried to encapsulate the entire experience of childhood.

So what should a childhood look like?  I look forward to your comments!