And then the complaints started rolling in to the class parent who relayed them to me.
"What sort of message does it send to our kids that they are not allowed to watch TV during the week because they have to do homework but they get to watch it at school?"
"Can't he show them something on the Discovery Channel instead?"
"He is showing my child shows that I would not choose to show him myself."
"They are watching 4 hours of TV a week!"
"Can't he play them books on tape instead?"
"Is this just for babysitting?"
So I drafted a letter to the parents:
It has recently come to my attention that there are a number of parents who are interested to learn more about what we have been watching during lunch. First I would like to say that I only show movies on the day before big vacations and during parts of a few lunches.
Over the past month or so, we have watched a few movies and a few episodes of "Pee Wee's Playhouse." We watch for roughly 20-25 minutes during lunch, usually twice a week. After the 20-25 minutes when most of the children have finished eating, I turn off the TV and start free choice time in the classroom.
I have found a few interesting things have occurred since I've started showing assorted entertainment during lunch including the fact that a number of kids who did not finish their lunches before 12:45 were actually eating!
"Pee Wee's Playhouse", in particular, has been a joy to watch with the children. Each episode is a little over twenty minutes, a perfect length for lunch, and has turned into a real interactive event in the class with kids and teachers alike.
In the spring, I plan on showing the kids a Charlie Chaplin film or two and maybe a Buster Keaton film although last year's class seemed to overwhelmingly favor Chaplin. Another child has recommended that I show a Marx Bros. film. During the last days of the school year, I'm also planning to show a 1950's film "Little Fugitive" about an eight-year-old boy in Coney
Island. If anyone has DVDs of any of these films and are willing to lend them to the class for a few days, I would appreciate it.
If anyone has any questions, concerns, or simply want to know some of the other reasons why I have decided
to show DVDs for about 45 minutes a week in class, please let me know. I would be glad to talk to you.
And in case, you've forgotten what "Pee Wee's Playhouse" is, I thought you might find this review illuminating.
"Pee-wee's Playhouse, which ran from 1986 to 1991, was the essence of '80s post-modernism. A convergence of the L.A. art, animation, comedy and music scene (Gary Panter designed the set, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh did the music), "Playhouse" mixed up cartoons from the '30s and '40s and decor, furniture, fashions and lingo from the '50s, '60s and '70s into the ultimate '80s stew. Fast-paced, kitschy and side-splittingly goofy, "Playhouse" is still a wonder to behold. With its off-kilter Jetsons-meets-Dali set design, computer and traditional animation, and talking furniture and puppets (including Chairry, Globey, Pterry the Pteradactyl, Randy the Bully and the little Claymation dinosaur family who lived in the mouse hole), the Playhouse is Pee-wee's imagination come to life, and it's the imagination of the eternal 8-year-old. "Pee-wee's Playhouse" is utterly timeless.
Not that the "Playhouse" was without boundaries. Pee-wee learned lessons too, in simple, direct and funny ways. Some of these were lessons in friendship or honesty. Others were practical lessons, like how to make French toast or throw a pajama party. "Playhouse" was a wholesome oasis amid the carnage of the networks' Saturday morning lineup. It was as educational as anything on PBS. Yet it dared to teach the stuff that can't be taught, that has to be absorbed, like parody and satire — stuff that makes life infinitely richer, and funnier, once you crack the code."
I deliberately left out the stuff in the review about how gay the show was and how mean the characters were to the one overweight character, and the part about the many double entendres. But, can you blame me for leaving out that stuff?
What could possibly be offensive about Pee Wee?
And then I received a few responses. They talked about how passive TV is and that it curbs a child's creative and social life. A couple mentioned studies about how TV lowers IQ and how kids who watch TV tend to be more likely to become obese because they aren't aware of their body, and the feeling of being satiated.
What struck me most about the complaints was that TV and films are still the bastard child of the art world. They get no respect. If I were reading a book to the class or even playing a book on tape, the parents would be satisfied and wouldn't complain about how passive it is or how their kid will eat too much.
It seems that when people think TV, they automatically think American Idol or The Simple Life. But when people mention theater, the crap like The Lion King and Miss Saigon gets a free pass. Theater is brilliant! TV is trash! I just don't get it.
I have worked things out with the parents. I have talked to the director of the school. I think I'll probably be limiting the TV watching to about 30 minutes a week and shifting to different programs than Pee Wee. This week, I've been showing them a cartoon about Martin Luther King that weaves in historical footage with nary a parent complaint. The parents of my students mean well and are very supportive. They aren't even pushing that I should stop- but merely stating their preferences. It has pretty much already blown over. Still, I have found the whole thing very enlightening about the neighborhood in which I teach.