One of my new (school) year’s resolutions is to reallocate some of my time from television to books. And, while there are many books about education, from time to time I will blog about the education/leadership books I have read and made connections to our work in West Vancouver, and the broader education community.
One such book is the well-researched Childhood Under Siege by Joel Bakan. Bakan is a professor of law at UBC, and the author of the widely cited book and film The Corporation. His latest book examines how big business targets children. And while its viewpoint is largely focussed on the United States, and interspersed with some Canadian examples, it is a cautionary tale beyond these borders.
Bakan focuses on five areas in which corporations are targeting and harming children: media, pharmaceuticals, toxic chemicals, child labour, and education. While all five have links to the school system, I found the section on media particularly compelling.
Addicting Games is one of the sites he mentions. The site is owned by Nickelodeon and is one of the largest sources of online games.
Many of the site’s games deliver emotional content interactively – players can act out and control virtual acts of brutality and murder rather than just passively watching actors or animated figures do so, as they would on TV.
Bakan also questions the spin-offs from the Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Call of Duty series. Games I am more familiar with, like Neopets and Webkinz, also come under the microscope. Bakan says of these sites aimed at pre-schoolers and elementary students, “pet sites succeed by manipulating, using casino-style tactics, the intense feeling kids have for their virtual pets.” What is common at the heart of all of these games — is addiction — it has “become the gold standard in gaming, the true mark of a game worth playing.” This chapter is an interesting read in the wake of Stuart Shanker’s visit to our district at the beginning of this school year. When asked about the one piece of advice he would give parents, Shanker said he would “encourage them to get rid of their televisions.”
Bakan’s book does work into the subject of education more deeply, examining the string of US policies that have relied heavily on standardized tests. I found this to be sad, but also reassuring, knowing how we are forging a different path in BC, and in Canada.
As parent groups look for study books for the fall, Bakan offers one with links to both parenting and schooling.
Here is a video of Bakan explaining some of the book’s key points:
Bakan’s book is a call for community and regulatory solutions to the areas he identifies. I am interested in your thoughts, and the views of those who have had a chance to engage with the book and/or its themes.
For West Vancouver blog readers, the book is available through the West Vancouver Memorial Library.