Discovery Channel Doesn’t Count

Reading a friend’s homeschooling blog I spotted a troll who commented, “Who ever learned anything at home? Discovery Channel doesn’t count.”

I didn’t enter unschooling with a lot of skepticism, and I haven’t received many surprises from unschooling that are not common to parenting in general, but statements such as that one do rather stun me to disbelief.

Discovery Channel doesn’t count? Whyever not? Watching Discovery and similar channels, my children and I can explore the scientific method of inquiry with Mythbusters, not to mention learning a ton of interesting stuff, including the importance of safety in science experiments. Curiosity explores enduring questions of science, technology, and society with in-depth inquiries and analysis. Dirty Jobs looks at some of the most important jobs in our society, the ones that keep things running smoothly and yet often few people know about. Life explores natural history and nature in wondrous color and detail that is second only to actually being there.

Engaging, Educational, and … Entertaining?

As I ponder the statement “Discovery Channel doesn’t count” I can only imagine that the statement must mean: “Discovery Channel isn’t painful enough.” I mean, really. What else could it possibly mean? Learning is clearly happening for anyone who is even peripherally in the room when the show is on. The shows are so engaging, the truth is it is hard not to give full, absorbed attention when one is on.

So if Discovery Channel shows are engaging and educational, the problem must be that they are entertaining. They don’t make learning painful. They don’t force viewers to watch. Learning alone is obviously not enough, as anyone who went to public school knows.

In his senior year of high school, my husband had a teacher who, rather than teaching, basically read the text aloud to the class every day. Being a sensible person who could think of better things to do with his time, my husband ditched class, read the text on his own, gave assignments to a friend to turn in for him, and showed up for tests – all of which he aced. The teacher gave him a D for the class, despite the fact that he had learned all the material and made the grades to receive an A. Learning is not enough in the public school system.

Sketching at the butterfly pavilion.
Sketching at the butterfly pavilion is entertaining, too.

For too many of us who had to sit through that painful version of education, the idea that some kids might enjoy their education seems to be intolerable. Even for many homeschoolers. If it was painful for us to learn spelling, or algebra, or the periodic table in school, then putting our children through that same grind, even in homeschooling, is expected. It is normal in our society and therefore must be good educational practice … or at least inevitable.

Of course there are many homeschoolers who do not unschool and still make sure that their school days are fun and engaging. There is even a very small minority of public schools that buck this trend. But one of the (few) characteristics common to all unschoolers is that almost everything they do that might count as education is engaging or entertaining.

Of course, what is entertaining turns out to look quite different for different people, which I think is a pretty good thing. For instance, my ten-year-old son is currently pestering the life out of me to get him (a) an anatomy chart (so that he can memorize all the bones and muscles and organs of the body), and (b) a periodic table of the elements (ditto). He’s also reminding me daily to make sure he gets signed up for summer camp at the Science Center! His interests were sparked by something he saw on television or read in a book – likely something that I deliberately exposed him to with the strewing method – and now he is running with it.

Christians and the Entertainment Factor

I’m used to it by now, but the truth is when I actually sit down and ponder it, the fact that Christians are among the most vocal protestors of the entertainment factor in education does surprise me. “Unschooling is unbiblical!” is the rallying cry. “The Bible tells us to discipline our children!”

While I agree we are to discipline our children … that is, to make disciples of them … I’m not sure rigid scheduling and forcible teaching are the only or best way to achieve that. After all, the Ultimate Teacher leaves us free to learn, explore, choose, and even reject the Ultimate Truth. My decision. My choice whether to accept the gift of grace. He woos us with love. He tempts us to Him with grace spread over our lives like a toddler spreads peanut butter: all over everything.

Love and grace, not pain and punishment. Unconditional love and grace wooing us to His side, a grace so strong that it is irresistible. Not fear and punishment that can’t be resisted, love and grace that can’t be resisted. Discipling is not standing behind and driving someone forward to a goal, but stepping forward and moving toward it yourself in such a way that your disciple will want to follow you. How can I not extend that grace to my children in every aspect of their lives?

The REAL discovery channel.
The REAL discovery channel.

So what is wrong with wooing a child to interest in science with an entertaining program?

You know, I get it; I really do. I’m a parent. I get the fear that your child will not “measure up” or will be unprepared for the “real world,” so you feel you have to push and prod and punish to make him get his schoolwork done.

But keeping in mind that algebra is not, in fact, more important than salvation by any possible measure, think about this: It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery … not even for the sake of education.

~ Carma

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