It’s another one of those phrases we hear a lot these days: Education by stealth. I heard it most recently at the Children’s Media Conference last week (which was fantastic) and sometimes it just doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t help feeling that there is another phrase we should be using.
So what’s wrong with education by stealth? Well first let’s look at how it is used. I usually hear it in two contexts:
1) When someone wants to dress up a non-educational product as educational. They reverse-engineer some sort of educational aim into their description. For example, making all these children smile in this game where you feed them Happy Meals helps your child’s hand/eye co-ordination! It reminds me of Josh Selig‘s term, to curriculate – to retrofit your content with education. To me, I rarely buy that this does anything for actual education.
2) Much more positively, I hear it used by people who genuinely want to give children content that will be good for them but they appear to doubt that their audience actually wants to be educated. So the idea is that you hide the education among entertainment and slip it to children that way, so they don’t even know they’re learning stuff.
Now chances are if you have ever used it you have done so in the second context. And there is something to be said for the idea when you have content that is not meant to be educational but you’re hoping to add value in some way.
But let’s examine it further.
Education by stealth makes the actual learning out to be some undesired ninja that must stalk your children and find a way into their brain when they least expect it. It denies the idea that the educational material may actually be interesting. It’s like it says the last thing we would want to do is have a child realise they are learning something, as if it would turn them off completely.
I reject that idea.
Firstly because how can we possibly inspire a love of learning that will stay with children if we make it our business to hide from them any knowledge of that learning? And secondly, because some of the best shows on the planet don’t hide their educational content. They put it right out there in front and let kids soak it up and love it. Do they entertain? Absolutely they do. But it’s not education by stealth because they don’t try to slip in that education without anyone realising.
Sesame Street does not hide its educational material. Deadly 60 does not hide its educational material. Horrible Histories does not hide its educational content. Quite the opposite. These shows revel in what they can give to children. By embracing the educational content, they don’t have to hide it because they can work with it to make it fun, make it exciting and make it interesting. These are some of the most entertaining children’s shows and they all inspire a love of learning in their own way. This is not education by stealth. It is something else entirely. These shows all embody the phrase I think we should be using instead:
Education by total awesomeness.
Learning is not something to be hidden. It is something to be celebrated, made exciting, presented as an adventure. Because that’s exactly what it is. The truth is, children love to learn. We just need to want to teach them. Not all children’s content needs to be educational but, if that’s what you’re going for, then really go for it.
Education by total awesomeness. It’s what the top shows do and it works.