Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In Defense of “Cable TV Stations”

Ninety-nine percent of the educational and cultural content television shows that our family watches are on “cable TV stations”, they are not on PBS. (Frankly, I feel that PBS is not as full of educational content as they used to be. ‘Cable TV’ channels have taken over and trumped PBS’s educational programming.) I have “cable TV” stations in quotes because we don’t have cable TV; we have Direct TV’s satellite service,

(Why do we have satellite TV? Because when we moved to this town, we realized that the local cable network offered fewer channels than our previous home’s service, for more money than we were paying before we moved. We then realized that Direct TV offered more educational type channels and for overall, less money.)

I cannot understand when a family brags that they don’t have ‘cable’ stations. If that family has network TV stations and PBS: guess what, most of what you have is junk: network stations! And you have PBS. Big deal! Those families think they are saving money and cutting out junk television by not having cable channels. I think that network television is the junkiest content of all! And when homeschooling families brag that they don’t have cable, to me that shows that they are intentionally blocking their own access to wonderful documentaries. I don’t get it.

The term “cable channels” is too broad to be effectively used, in my opinion. Yes, there are some channels that are junky. Some would point to MTV as problematic. Others would point to subscription channels for adults over the age of 18. What about the religion channels—are those junk—to the people who are of that faith? The reality is that the number of quality channels far outnumbers what most families would consider pure trash/channels that should be banned entirely. There are some channels I have never watched due to non-interest, such as some sports channels. I take what I want from these channels and leave the rest, just as I do with books, radio, music, magazines, newspapers, my snail mail, the Internet and email.

In order to watch educational content shows, some families would suggest using local libraries. My own library has a two-day rental time. If I take a movie out in the evening or late afternoon, I sometimes have less than 24 hours to return it. I can’t be made a slave to driving to my own library every day or two…especially with these gasoline prices! Other libraries, located a 30-minute drive from me, have better video lending libraries. But that is yet another errand and yet more driving to do (and spending my time and using yet more money for gasoline).

Some local homeschoolers praise the use of NetFlix. This internet/mail rental service has entertainment movies as well as educational documentaries. I am not getting rid of our satellite TV so I see NetFlix as yet another expense to add to our already-too-high budget (during this time of unemployment). I will stick to just DirectTV for now.

I love living books and using books as our main educational resource. But there is nothing like seeing something in action. We did a unit study on Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, and coral reefs in general. It was interesting and the photos in some of the books were stunning. Then we watched a documentary on television. Wow! The underwater photography was just gorgeous and there is nothing like seeing the movement of the animals and plants. It was entirely different. I wished that we had started our studies by watching a video, it may have helped us to visualize better, the things we were reading about.

Another wonderful thing to see unveiled on video are treasure quests: exploring sunken ships (i.e. the Titanic) and finding treasure. To my family, this is riveting television. Usually the documentary will start out with an introduction about what is being searched for, with a bit of history. Then we go on the journey, and travel underwater with the divers to see what they find. We view them seeing a piece of treasure or some object underwater. We hear the experts give their hypothesis. Usually at the end of the show, we hear the updates with the test results and what further investigation revealed. I am not saying to not read books on these subjects, but these television shows are complimentary and not to be missed, in my opinion!

We have been enjoying documentaries about history lately. I have found that live video footage, dramatizations of past events and other elements such as moving map visuals to be a wonderful compliment to learning about world history through books. Two favorite shows that we are watching lately are “History Traveler” and “Almanac”, both from the History Channel.

In the recent past we have watched “Ancient Almanac” and “Voyages”.

I should also mention that we use a TiVo unit, and have done so for over 3.5 years! We program TiVo to record the shows that we want to watch. TiVo also automatically records shows with content that it feels we would like, based on the ratings that we give to individual shows. Our unit holds 35 hours of recorded programming. With the TiVo, we watch TV when we want, not when the show is ‘on live’. We also fast forward through commercials. So for over 3 years we hardly ever watch live television, we don’t watch commercials, and we watch what we want, when we want! Can television get any better than this?

There are only so many hours in the day to do the many things our family wants to do. I try to limit the television viewing for my children to educational content or small amounts of harmless children’s entertainment. They do watch a few reality shows with my husband and I, some of which I consider good entertainment, and some of which I consider “twaddle”. Compared to the average American family, my children watch less television than other families, and we shelter them from content which we feel is problematic. Compared to other families we know, we are stricter about what our children watch. I think we’ve found a good balance.

I feel that we use our television, it does not use us. I think that is a good way to treat television.

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