Deb Lewis in defense of Cartoons (and natural learning)

This first section also appears on the main cartoons page but this is Deb's full response.

A skeptical mom asked:

Can you tell me how it can serve a child if they say spend hours a day watching Scooby-Doo ?
Deb Lewis responded:
I asked my son what he thought a person could get from watching cartoons. He said he's learned a lot from watching Loony Toons and especially Daffy Duck. "What?" I asked. "I learned that you really can solve all your problems with dynamite!"
Don't panic. He was being funny.

But really, maybe hours of Scooby Doo is glorious fun. Fun is serious. Fun is important, especially for kids. Don't underrate fun. People who are not happy as children seldom find easy or lasting happiness as adults.

But there are all kinds of things a person could get from watching Scooby Doo. They are kind to Scooby, they love him and wouldn't leave him behind, he's their friend and they would do whatever they could to save him if he was in danger. It might inspire someone to think about kindness to animals.

Freddy, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scoob genuinely care about each other, trust each other. Might inspire thoughts about friendship and trust.

They work together, plan and organize. It might inspire thoughts about the usefulness of cooperation.

They handle tough situations with humor. That might inspire someone to think about the value of a happy and positive attitude.

They help people who need help.
The people who need help ask for it.
These are good things.

Viewers might learn about comedic timing, setting a mood with music, foreshadowing, plot development, character development, dialog, story line, fashion, animation.

Does the television and game playing become a habit that is all the child then wants to do.
If television and games are only two choices in a whole house and neighborhood and town and county and state full of choices then they are no more likely to become habit than anything else. It's up to you to offer your kids a big life. If you don't do it, it would be very smart of them, really brilliant of them to find something stimulating and challenging like TV and games. But if kids are watching because they're bored then the parents need to think of ways to make life more interesting. TV should be a choice among many choices, not the only choice.

If a child has a lot of choices and chooses video games or TV then he's getting something valuable from them. People have all kinds of interests during their lives. An intense interest in TV or video games now probably won't last a lifetime but for some people it might and those people could someday be sound technicians or cameramen. They might be producing TV shows, acting, writing musical scores, writing screenplays, directing, doing stunt work— they might be graphic artists, or writing codes or software, etc.

Lots of people enjoy TV all their lives. It's no different than enjoying reading or enjoying playing cards.

Some people focus on one thing really intently for awhile, weeks or months or years and then when they've had their fill, move on to other things. Someone who's discovered a few great shows on TV might really focus on them until they've explored every aspect of the characters and themes, etc. It's the same when a really little child likes mom to read a favorite book over and over again. It doesn't mean it's a habit, in the negative way you're using "habit" above. It means some people focus more fully and deeply and get everything they can from that interest before moving on.

They may pick up snippets of information from cartoons, but compared to the hours watching, it seems little knowledge return really.
Many unschoolers and most radical unschoolers don't consider unschooling to be a method of education. There is no way to completely measure another persons knowledge. People know so much more than they show the outside world at any given moment. People are learning all the time. We may not be able to see the learning or name it but it's happening. Unschooling will be easier for you if you can come to trust this process. Humans learn.

This is a strange statement really. If your kids spent hours in the pool during the hot summer would you be wondering what they were getting from it? Would you be measuring the return. Would you need to document, even in your own mind what they might have learned in/from the water?

what skills are they learning that they can use in the world outside their home?
Your children aren't outside your home though. They're young and at home with you. What is it that you think they need to know right now, today, this minute, that they don't know? I'll bet they know what they need for today. You're speaking mainly about your thirteen year old, I'm guessing. It will be five years before she can legally leave your house.

She's not standing still. It sounds like you want the comfort of knowing she's ready to be on her own right now, but she doesn't need to be.

What skills will they get that can help them function as adults?
What skills do you have that help you function as an adult that you believe your child is missing? If you list them I can tell you ways she might come to possess those skills. (or not)
How can this compare to schooled peers who are learning a variety of different things?
Kids who go to school don't all come out the other end ready for life in the world. A guy my husband used to work with graduated without knowing how to read. Kids in school are there six or more hours a day one hundred eighty days a year and still have to "review" when the new school year begins everything they "learned" the previous year. Then there's remedial classes and homework and summer school and the big push to get kids to read teacher selected stuff over summer vacations. If ever there was a disparity between time spent and knowledge gained it's in school.

And the "variety" they're (supposedly) learning in school is selected by a bunch of fat, rich white guys who believe they know, without a doubt what every child in the country should know and when they should know it. It's not reasonable in any way.

I know we live in a technological society, but shouldn't a childs world have more in it than just cartoons and computer games? Is this where strewing comes in?
I'll just guess here that your daughter talks to people, talks on the phone, talks to friends and relatives. I'll guess she reads a little, goes to the store with you, knows the difference between dirty clothes and clean ones. She probably sees that grass is green and the sky is blue and she probably knows birds sing and bees buzz.

I think you're in some kind of panic. I think you're not thinking of what your kid knows and does in any balanced way because you're so focused on the thing she's doing that you don't really approve of.

What really helps some people is to make a list of the things their kid can do and the things they're interested in and the things they love. Focus on those positive things instead of the negative thing in your head that's telling you your child is missing the mark.

And I'd ask, if you think she should be doing more, what are you doing to make other choices available to her that would be as fun or interesting as the TV.

Does she have your support in getting to the library or the park or the pool or the mall? Do you go out to lunch to new places, have interesting people over for dinner, visit museums, and parks and art galleries and funky shops and ice cream parlors? Does she have games to play and books and magazines to read? Can she chat with friends on-line or go to camp if she wants?

Yes, this is where strewing comes in. Strewing should be "in" all along because people of all ages need to have interesting lives.

Deb Lewis

The original was on a group called Unschooling Basics. I wasn't in that group, but I did ask to rescue and host the archives when yahoogroups was about to delete them, because much is quoted on my site. Here's that discussion:
Cartoons and computer games
Scooby-Doo, Frankenstein, and a Big Storm

more Deb Lewis television parenting issues for unschoolers