Over the course of this week my primary school has been involved in a school project to take action on the UN global goals development campaign.
The kids were broken into cross-year groups and then a particular issue they were interested in taking action on.
As we got started, I asked the children to think about an issue they might have seen in the news or heard their parents talk about.
What was interesting about the discussion is that the kids didn’t watch the news.
I immediately thought back to my one-television childhood.
Watching the nightly news was something of a ritual in our housed. The kids had to watch the news because our parents watched it and we heard all about the world – the good, the bad and the ugly. We could pick up newspapers delivered to our house to read and heard our parents talking about the news at dinner time. Because there were only two channels, there was some semblance of balance in the coverage of the events of the day – albeit from a monocultural and male perspective. Being in the news was a big deal – as a nine-year old I had a visit from the deputy principal to congratulate me for showing up on his screen getting my fish chips just as the Deputy Prime Minster at the time was getting his order. Delivery of the newspapers in education was a big deal – we felt like grownups for getting our own special copy of the papers.
Yet times I have changed.
There are multiple screens. The children I teach often live multiple time zones away from their ‘mother tongue,’ the hours the families work make family dinners more difficult to sustain. Nevertheless, I’m not sure how much in the way of current events this generation of children is viewing now there is multiple screens and programming on demand means that we are filtering the information we are consuming.
There’s also a feeling that the problems these days are just too graphic for the eyes and ears of children.
Yet how many youngsters saw the planes flying into the twin towers, heard reports of genocide in Rwanda and Srebrenica, watched tanks rolling into Tiananmen square, recoiled at the assassination of Kennedy and felt a deep sense of empathy for the child running down a Vietnamese road?
I worry about what happens to our society if our kids aren’t hearing about what is going on in our world. How many of our leaders get their start debating problems at the dinner table? How much critical analysis do children miss developing when they listen to the adults in their lives giving commentary on their viewing?
There are many terrible things going on in the world. Moreover the side effect of the attention economy we live in, is that our outlets do battle to get raw footage onto our screens so quickly that there mustn’t be much time to ponder the effects of the content on a wide audience.
How can we expect to develop compassionate and caring adults if they are sealed off from the events of the world? Because when children see the news, they pick up the details we miss. The immediately empathise with the child huddled in the boat or wonder about the kids of the latest shooting victim.
Schools have a part to play. Is the frantic pace of the school day and year meaning that we aren’t taking as much time to ponder the world as it is? Are the lack of questions from kids about what they see and hear at home meaning we aren’t making time to discuss the world.
It’s a problem for all of us.
Is the overabundance of information actually inhibiting development of children’s knowledge of the world we live in?