They lived far off the grid with their parents without phone or TV, the family built a beautiful adobe house from scratch and by hand, and except for their vehicles and wind-and-solar power generation system, they lived a 19th-century lifestyle. The only thing that created the impression that the girls’ schooling had created unique outcomes was their quaint and somewhat formal means of expressing themselves in spoken and written words.
If you are a modernist you may recoil at the thought of restricting a child’s reading curriculum to 19th century works, but I can assure you these girls have grown up to be two of the most intelligent, well-educated, talented, and high-achieving young people I have ever met.
There is no expiration date on sound moral values and wisdom. These things can’t go sour like a carton of milk. Their shelf life is timeless.
I have been giving a great deal of thought to the influence of modern entertainment media on the ways that today’s young people think. I am convinced it will be necessary for young people who come to live at Estrella Vista to check all their personal electronic devices at the door. A kid who is wearing earbuds and listening to music while hiking to a mountaintop would be cut off from the healing and centering influences of the natural rhythms this setting has to offer. (It is a safety factor too: had I been listening to music when I encountered that Mojave in the chicken coop, I would not have heard his warning rattle and would likely be dead right now.)
We need to get kids to slow down their thinking, become more self-reflective, develop longer attention spans, and sharpen their critical thinking skills. Most kids these days are spending five to six hours a day on-screen with television, video games, and computers which are turning them into passive observers. Visual tracking skills, eye-hand coordination, gross motor skills, social skills, motivation, initiative, creativity, and problem solving abilities are all inhibited by these media.
Early last week at its national convention, the American Academy of Pediatrics again warned parents of infants and toddlers that they should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games, and even grown-up shows playing in the background. The Academy said there is no such thing as an “educational program” for children under age 2, and that leaving the TV on as background noise distracts both children and adults.
Renowned parenting expert John Rosemond calls television watching a “deprivational experience for the young child,” as it robs the child of the opportunity to discover and delight in his or her own potential. Television also compromises the development of cause-and-effect thinking and values development. Violent TV and video games desensitize kids to violence and increase the likelihood of kids emulating observed violence in their behavior. Rosemond says on-screen time literally causes brain damage, and I believe him.
Says Rosemond: “Today’s children have considerably shorter attention spans than did kids in the early 1950s. This is going on all over America. You could not teach fifty children with one teacher in a classroom (like you could in the 1950s) if you had kids with considerably shorter attention spans.”
I have no doubt that kids coming here to live will, by virtue of having been raised on television and video games, be accustomed to and dependent upon entertainment. There will be a role for electronic media at Estrella Vista, but it must be intelligently regulated. I am collecting used computers for a future computer lab (I’m up to four machines so far). I am also building a film library and, of course, a large library of books.
When Derek first came here, he consumed a large number of movies he had heard about in prison but had never seen. (Happily he lost interest as the outdoors lured him away from everything but Facebook.) Most of the first films that Derek viewed were movies like Silence of the Lambs and Fight Club that feature violence; I had second thoughts about this at the time and have ever since.
On reflection, I think it would be rather ridiculous to censor films as a means of trying to “protect” young people from violence after they have been raised in a prison or home setting where violence is an ever-present and pervasive feature of daily life. As I build Estrella Vista’s video library, I’m going to take a page from the book of my homeschooling friends with the pre-1912 curriculum: I’ll create a library that is dominated by older films that promote pro-social values which may seem downright quaint to modern TV-conditioned sensibilities.
A couple days ago, one such film arrived in the mailbox: Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), starring iconic Hollywood bad-guy Edward G. Robinson and angelic child actor Margaret O’Brien. This wonderful but little-known film was directed by Roy Rowland and is based on the novel by George Victor Martin, about the Norwegian-descended residents of a small Wisconsin farming community. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, his last before being blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In a departure from his typical type-casting, Edward G. Robinson plays the gentle and loving father of a precocious 7-year-old daughter played by Margaret O’Brien, and the central theme of the story is the importance of communitarian sharing and generosity. The story shows the child as a catalyst and inspiration to the whole community to act unselfishly. The film models the way a rural community like ours works when at its very best and, as such, could potentially be an effective teaching tool.
Older films like this may also offer the advantage of acclimating kids to a slower, non-MTV/sound-bite pace that will encourage more reflective and deliberate thought. Yet whether or not this experiment will pan out is anybody’s guess. A lot of kids cannot adjust to the slower timing of older films.
Yet, if we are insulated here from the outside world and its insane pace and given a rich array of choices in unfamiliar entertainments and creative tools—who knows? Maybe we will even achieve the preferred ideal of creating our entertainment rather than just consuming it.
It’s worth a try.
Groove of the Day