Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Child Development

In an earlier post, I admitted to plopping LE in front of the Teletubbies while I eat my breakfast. I'm ashamed, but LE absolutely loves the TV. He has ever since his eyes opened from swollen little slits, even before he could focus properly. The love affair has just increased as he's started to be able to make some sense of what's going on in there. Gone are the days of nursing and watching DIY and antiques programs on BBC, because LE, no matter how much he wants the milk, can't stop himself from whipping his head around every ten seconds to see what's going on. Sometimes he forgets to let go of my nipple for this, but as it turns out, that's a part of my anatomy that's much more elastic than I had previously believed. In his favor, I also can't read while nursing anymore, not until he's half asleep at least, because as soon as he hears the pages of the book, he whips around and starts reaching. Now I can kid myself that this is because he's really clever and that it bodes future bookishness, but really, he's not interested in what the book says. He just wants to grab the pages so he can crumple and rip them and see if they taste good.

In Turkish, before someone says something, they often say "I'm going to say something." On Turkish TV, there is a short pre-commercial thing to announce the commercials, so when your show cuts out, it doesn't always go straight to the commercial. It goes to a girl eating an apple, or a bride and groom on a trampoline, or a cup of tea being stirred, and it says Reklam ('commercial') at the bottom. Sometimes it rather bafflingly says 'Advertorial.' One of these commercial announcements is LE's favorite thing on TV-- there's a bell sound, and some music, and a martini glass full of green olives and vodka being swirled. He drops everything and stares when he hears that one coming on. That's my boy! Someday I'll have to teach him, though, that a twist of lemon is a better garnish for a martini. The olive, as Auntie Mame chides us, takes up too much room in that little glass.

On one hand, I wish LE didn't like TV so much. I try to limit our TV time as much as possible, especially TV with a lot of commercials. I know TV is bad for kids. I know it's burning unwanted pathways into his little brain and possibly lowering his IQ. I know it teaches him bad things about the world and our society, and that it will someday soon make him covet crappy plastic toys that kill the imagination and food in lurid colors that's full of things I can't pronounce. On the other hand, it's not like I can pretend TV doesn't exist. Electronic media and screens are a fact of LE's future. I wouldn't be surprised if students' desks all contain monitors by the time he's in high school. And it's not like I'll ever convince my husband to ban the TV from our house so we can occupy ourselves with loftier pursuits. This is Turkey, where they haven't even had non-State-owned channels for very long, and every home, business, restaurant, and hospital has a TV blaring every waking moment whether anyone's watching it or not. So the way it works now is, LE watches TV sometimes while I need my hands free, but if anyone else (for example, my in-laws) tries to put him in front of their TV because they think it's cute, I get all huffy and use it as an example of how they don't listen to me or respect my rules for my child. So it all works out in the end.

Because of the time change last week, LE has still been waking up an hour or more earlier than usual. Generally, he's had his breakfast and I'm ready for mine by 9am, just in time for 'Big Cook Little Cook,' a kids' show on BBC that I find highly amusing but that LE doesn't really care about (he just likes the songs), followed by the Teletubbies, which I've already covered. Lately, he's been up (gasp!) before 7, meaning he's had his breakfast in time for this show I can't stand called 'Balamory.' The only redeeming feature of 'Balamory' is that everyone has a delightful Scottish accent, but the fun stops there. It's positively insipid, with this awful theme song that stays in my head for weeks after I've watched it. I leave it on for LE as much as I can stand (again, he likes the songs and the people dancing around), but often I switch to the news to check the tickers for any disasters I may have missed, or I just flip around the Turkish stations until I get so annoyed with them that 'Balamory' starts looking pretty good.

Yesterday morning, I flipped to a Turkish kids' show, and inevitably began comparing it to 'Balamory.' On 'Balamory,' someone was moving house and they needed labels for their boxes so they'd know which rooms to put them in. Rather than simply use a pen and write the rooms on the boxes, they got Spencer the Painter to take some bits of paper to the nursery school so the kids could make the labels. Spencer gathered the kids around and explained what they were doing, then elicited from the kids the kinds of pictures they should draw for these labels. 'A horse!' said one. 'A spaceship!' said another. 'A bed!' said a third. Now, obviously 'a bed' is the only 'right' answer here, but Spencer told all the kids they had wonderful ideas and set them to drawing. Compare this with the Turkish kids' show, in which the kids were lined up by their minders, and divided into teams. The minders told them the teams would be called 'Bıcır' and 'Gıcır' (I don't know what these words mean, if indeed they mean anything, but they sound 'cute'). Two kids were chosen by the minders to climb into a basket full of balls, then instructed to find the balls with certain letters on them, then pass them to their teammates, who would pass them down a line of kids, where the last kid would put the ball into a smaller basket.

On the Turkish program, there was some shuffling and escaping by some of the kids who didn't like which team they had been put on. There was a bit of jealousy at not being chosen to be the kid to go into the basket with the balls. One little girl named Zeynep was put on a team of all boys, which she didn't like, and she was the one who had to put the passed ball into the small basket, but because she was about 3, and the boys were all screaming and jumping around, she wasn't doing a very good job and the boy next to her started putting the ball in for her. The winning team was praised and the losing team was ignored. On the British program, all the kids were told everything they did was wonderful and they happily drew their pictures. There were plenty of markers to go around.

From a pedagogical point of view, it can be said that the British activity was more 'modern,' and more in line with current philosophies of child development. But I'm not quite willing to jump on that bandwagon and say the things the kids on 'Balamory' were learning are better than the things the kids on the Turkish program were learning. On one show, creativity was being encouraged, and on the other, obedience and competition were the goals. At the end of the respective activities, all of the 'Balamory' kids felt good and validated, while just a few of the Turkish kids felt they had received metaphorical gold stars, and by then, most of them weren't paying attention anymore anyway.

Of course, I'm inclined to think an activity isn't really good when most of the kids are left feeling bad at the end, and of course it seems nicer to see kids' ideas being elicited and respected, and their creativity encouraged to flower. But in the grand scheme of things, how much does it matter? Are the kids on 'Balamory' any better off in the end? In real life, most people don't get to be creative. Most people get the wrong answers. Some people win while most people lose. Hardly anyone gets a gold star. On one hand, we can say that it's good for children to experience mostly good things when they're small, because it just goes downhill from there. On the other hand, there's something to be said for having a little reality in our learning experiences.

One of my big worries if we stay in Turkey is LE's education. The education system here is about fifty years out of date. The schools are overcrowded and underfunded, and the focus is on memorization and competition, where students spend most of their time memorizing unanalyzed facts to regurgitate for standardized multiple choice tests which will then be used to determine which students get to fill the very limited places in decent universities. Turkish students are great at memorizing, which is a skill most of us in America have lost. I always wished I could find a good way to use memorization in my EFL classes, though generally I spent a lot of time working to stop them trying to memorize everything because it's not really possible to memorize an entire language. I don't know how many oral reports I had to listen to in which the student had memorized pages of information lifted from the Internet, most of which he or she had no idea of the meaning or pronunciation. And no matter how hard I tried to get them to use original ideas or critical thinking, most students were only interested in what was going to be on the exam, because in the end, that was all that mattered. It wasn't really that the students were wrong or that I was bad. It was that we came from entirely disparate educational backgrounds and philosophies and never could quite find a way to work together. And while from a humanist perspective I appreciate the American and British systems' approach to early childhood education, Turkish students far outrank American and British students in mathematics and the physical sciences, which are arguably much more useful skills in the real world than having a good imagination. It hardly matters that I think a lifelong love of learning, a focus on the whole person, and a well-rounded education are more important. It's what I want for my son, of course, but it may not be what he really needs.

If LE goes to elementary school here, he's looking at being in a classroom of as many as 65 kids. From a young age, he will be made to line up with the other children in the morning to fidget and not pay attention while someone shouts nationalist slogans into a megaphone (is it any wonder my students couldn't listen to me for more than five minutes at a time?). If he keeps trying to be different and more interesting than the other 64 kids in his class, he will learn very quickly that this will get him nowhere and will only incur the wrath of his overworked and underpaid teacher. So if this is the case, which is the more appropriate kids' TV show for him to watch? The one that shows the world as all sunshine and lollipops where everyone gets a gold star for having interesting ideas, or the one that shows him how to do what he's told, follow the leaders, and not to think too much?

These days, LE is working on self-feeding. Even when he sticks the apple wedge into his eye instead of his mouth, I praise him and tell him what a good boy he is. Perhaps I'm doing some sort of lifelong damage to him, but I don't care. I'm his Mommy and I think he does a pretty good job no matter what.


Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

65 kids per class still? It was 70+ when I went to primary school, but I've been told it is about 40 now in some Istanbul neighbourhoods (yes in state schools). Anyway, kids born around now will be in school with fewer kids even if nothing is done just because of demographic reality. There'll be 5% fewer kids aged 5-9 in 2014 than there are now. There'll be more teachers too, one assumes. I'm using the US Census Bureau page:


(You need to use the tools at the bottom to get the detailed numeric data.)

Now, I don't know how realible that page is since it shows the fertility rate has fallen below the replacement rate as of now. It is possible that I am not reading the page correctly.

Anonymous said...

Don't be ashamed of letting Ender watch a little TV. The people who write the books about how evil TV is for your kids aren't getting up at 5 in the morning to feed them.

Remember, you're doing a great job!

David V.

ms.bri said...

This post is fascinating. I put youtube clips on for Beck when he is too fussy to bear. Even though we committed to a screen-free infancy for him. Bleh. Turkish school sounds kind of scary. I kind of hope you come back here by then. Besides, I'd like LE a bit closer in proximity for easier access to the cuteness. Speaking of which, send me more pictures.

Stranger said...

David V. points out an important facet to the argument. Thanks!

65 per class is the number I hear bandied about (for state schools), but I imagine it varies from school to school. The state school near my house in Beylikdüzü doesn't look big enough to accomodate that many kids.

Also, I've heard about new state schools opening up in wealthier areas (I'm thinking of Yeşilköy in this case) where the first year has about 30 kids per room, but the following year everyone has heard about the small class sizes, and so they pay bribes to get their kids into that school (I'm talking about families who aren't zoned for the school), so the classes become crowded again. This also happened to a friend of mine who put her daughter into a private school that opened last year-- they guaranteed certain sizes of classes, but when people from all over started throwing money at them to get their kids in, they went ahead and overfilled the classrooms anyway. Last year, her daughter's class had 20 or so kids, and this year, it's over 40. And my friend is paying for this! Needless to say, she's looking for another school...

That Census information is heartening though. Even better would be if they stopped paying for things like this obnoxious 4-year construction project on E5 in Avcılar and started building more schools!

siobhan said...

Are you sure you're not me?

Stranger said...

Hee! It was another Balamory morning today. Do you hate Balamory too? What's with that laird in the pink castle who wears a pink sweatshirt with his kilt? Today, I saw the theme song for PC Plum for the first time-- truly an insult to Queen, BTW-- and the laird sings soprano!

Someone should go all Soprano on his ass...

It's only because LE is under a year that I forgive him for liking Josie Jump, that cheery little health freak. We'll have to work on that. And it bothers me that on such a happy show Edie McCredie lives in that crappy bedsit with no kitchen, furnished with bus parts. And that big nose woman at the end always goes 'D'ya think I'll need my scarf?' only she says 'scerf' and it doesn't sound like a question and OF COURSE YOU'LL NEED YOUR SCERF, YOU COW-- it's the coast in Scotland and it always looks like it's about 5 below and raining ice!