When I was a kid, watching Saturday Morning Cartoons was an event. A reason to wake up early on the weekend. There was something that was just so exciting about turning on the TV and hearing the X-Men theme song, learning something from School House Rock, or watching a new episode of Spiderman. Yeah, those were the days…
Looking back now, I realize my mind was able to go to a different place and escape reality. It was fun, and something to look forward to.
However, that experience that I had growing up unfortunately will not be repeated with my children. Not because of my parenting, but because of the government’s.
Back in the early 90’s, a law was passed that basically set the stage for TV stations to phase out these weekend cartoon, and replace them with “Educational/Informative” content. That’s the whole reason for this whole situation.
I suppose they thought that the cartoons were dumbing kids down on the weekend, and to fix it, they needed to replace it. Unfortunately, they replaced it with content no one – especially kids – are ever going to watch. Which is fine – as long as they are doing something productive. But if they are just changing the channel, or picking up their iPad, I don’t really see the point.
A few years ago, I watched this Ted Talk about how school is killing kid’s creativity. This, too, goes right along with that.
Looking deeper into Saturday Morning Cartoons and a child’s psychology, let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
When a young child is at home on a Saturday, watching cartoons, they clear the physiological and safety levels easily. They are home with their family, clearing the love/belonging and esteem levels. The cartoons stimulate the brain – the right hemisphere especially, which is responsible for creativity. In this moment, in this environment, you can make an argument that a child is in a “Self-Actualized” state, brewing up creativity in their heads.
Coupling this up with the TedTalks argument, we take a child out of the home and drop them in a classroom. Now, they are no longer in the “Self-Actualized” state. Their confidence is much lower, their family is removed from them, and all they have now is basically the Physiological level. In one quick move, you take them from the top and move them all the way to the bottom. I understand that most people feel that this is an introduction to real life – but my philosophy is that we should be aiming for the self-actualized stage as a goal for all of us in all aspects of life. If there is something we can do to help us get there, then we should do that instead of the opposite.
Now that the child is in the classroom, he/she first needs to be assured of safety. Once trust is established with their teacher, and then other students, they move on to trying to make friends with others, eventually moving them up to the love/belonging stage. Once their confidence gets high enough, and they gain the respect of others, their self-esteem will increase as well. This can eventually take us back to the self-actualized state – but it won’t for everyone, especially the ones who bully others and get bullied, and the ones who are not being taught based on their personality’s strengths.
Another problem that is present in this situation is that when the child is watching cartoons, the brain is immersed in the self-actualized state and the imagination is running wild. Contrast this with what the brain is doing in school. Instead of being fully immersed in learning – in a flow state – the student’s mind is instead concerned with fitting in with others, which unfortunately becomes most student’s number one priority. It’s easy to understand how this is by looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Due to the brain’s need to be accepted by others as a prerequisite to the self-actualized stage, it is a higher priority in the brain than learning or listening to what the teacher is saying. The mind is constantly going back and forth between the class subject and the other people in the room. Think about it: have you ever known the answer to a question, but hesitated to raise your hand because you didn’t want to risk being wrong in front of others? Of course, everyone has. That is because it is natural for the brain to prioritize self-esteem and being accepted by others higher than self-actualization.
The key in this situation would be to get to a point where you are so incredibly comfortable with those around you that you truly do not care if you say something wrong in front of them. This is a true self-actualization stage, but it can only develop over time. If every year – or every class period – you are with a different group of students, it makes it much harder to accomplish this.
I can’t say all of this without addressing the fact that hardly anyone is hand drawing cartoons anymore. Disney, which is famous for their library of hand drawn cartoon movies, got rid of all of their cartoonists in favor of digital animators. However, this is a story for another post.
Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic. Maybe I’m just venting my frustrations with what’s on TV lately. But I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this is going to hurt children’s creativity further then it already is.