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TO BE OR TO HAVE?
This commentary is from Linda Weither of the Boston Globe. She writes: “I was eating lunch with a friend at a restaurant. Seated next to us were two boys about 10 or 11 and their dads, who were deep in conversation. The boys were searching for a topic. “What are you going to have when you grow up?” one finally asked. And they were off and running.

That odd substitution of a single word - “have” for “do” or “be” - shocked me into wondering. When did that original question lose its hold upon our children’s imaginations? When did youngsters stop seeing the future as an arena for action and begin to see adulthood as an opportunity to shop? When did their dreams shrink so small? I don’t know when, but I think I know why. The average child is exposed to about 10,000 well-made television commercials a year, and each one of them is a little sermon, saying: “What you have isn’t good enough. You need to buy something to make you happy.” It’s naive to think this repetition doesn’t powerfully shape our children’s values.

Oh, we understand that the underlying purpose of all advertising is to create a dissatisfaction with our lives and a craving for a succession of compensating products. What’s just seeping into consciousness is the way advertising has begun to infiltrate and affect every aspect of contemporary life.

Brian Swimme, in his book The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos believes that advertising is now fulfilling the initiatory function that earlier cultures handed over to shamans and priests. For 300,000 years, human beings created myths to make sense of their place in the universe, stories they passed on to their children to give them an idea of their purpose on earth. Today, education and religion are supposed to fill that role, but how much impact can teachers or ministers have when the average high school graduate has spent more time watching ads than going to high school itself, when each one of those 175,000 bits of propaganda is saying: “The purpose of your life is to work at jobs to earn money to get stuff.”

We would never give any organized religion that kind of access to our children’s minds. If any such messages were constantly flashed in our faces, it would be recognized and denounced as indoctrination. Advertising, somehow, is merely business as usual. Seen as neutral, it soon becomes invisible.

Not parents, but “the advertisement is our culture’s primary vehicle for providing our children with their personal cosmologies,” Swimme writes. “As this awful fact sinks into awareness, the first healthy response is one of denial. It is just too horrible to think that we live in a culture that has replaced authentic spiritual development with the advertisement’s crass materialism.” In fact, what’s so horrible is that once we acknowledge the power ads have to shape our children’s view of the world, we’re left with the uneasy feeling that we really ought to do something about this seductress in our midst, whose images invite us, entertain us and distract us 24 hours a day. Who or what can replace her?”

This is a powerful warning. At the school, we listen in horror as our children tell us about having dinner in front of the television, of spending most of Saturday watching videos, and of what they’re going to get. Determine to turn off the TV, and take back control of your children’s minds.

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