Sunday, March 06, 2005


We've had cable television for almost 2 years now; prior to that I was tv-free for nearly 10. And now, after 2 years of unlimited access to cable channels such as HGTV, Disney, The History Channel and Cartoon Network, my family--yes all of us!--have made the decision to give up cable. But what brought us to this point?

When I went to grad school, I made the decision not to have television in my life, the mountains of Central Pennsylvania and a graduate student salary aiding my decision. With so much work, I felt that I would carefully weigh the decision to watch a two hour movie in a way I would not turning on the tv. Thus began my blissful life without the "plug-in drug," causing me to miss the entire Seinfeld and Friends eras, shamefully unaware of the cultural references shared in the grad student offices. Did I miss out? Yes and no. My life was rich in other areas, and let's face it, I can now enjoy all those missed seasons of Friends on DVD--they're all new to me!

So what does this all have to do with our Unschooling adventures? Well, what to do with that 20th century entertainment box is a perennial question for child development experts, educators and, by extension, Unschoolers. The big question becomes does television expand or limit one's world?

Over the past 2 years, we have all enjoyed free access to the channels and information brought to us by cable tv. We have enjoyed "Bloody Rome" week on The History Channel, "Landscape Challenge" on HGTV, and my children have discovered shows like "Kim Possible" and "Teen Titans." Cable television has expanded our interests and our world, even when I haven't always liked the ways in which it's been expanded. Even shows like "Ed, Ed and Eddy" and "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" have offered us insights and information.

Never once has television limited our world or our lives. Critics talk of the addictive or passive nature of television, but our experience has born out neither of those criticisms. There have been days when the kids have watched, enthralled, and other days when they have never turned on the tv. Always, the shows have fueled their imagination and curiosity, informing their play, their art, their questions.

Why then choose to cancel cable? The question for us has been one of economics. We now have the option for DSL instead of the cable modem, a switch which would cut our monthly bill by $70. The question for us was whether the shows we watched were worth $70 a month to us, the answer to which was ultimately no.

The children had just as much a say in that answer as we did. We talked over all of our options and decided to digitally record as many of their favorite programs as possible, nearly all of which are reruns any way, before cancelling cable. This way, they will have these shows available on DVD whenever they choose to watch. We also have joined Blockbuster online, which will allow us unlimited movie rentals each month, many of which offer their favorite characters. We decided that the difference between these options and cable was not worth the nearly $60 a month it would cost.

We will still enjoy our favorite shows, "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." We will still get Fox and PBS. We will still have many options available, all of which enrich our lives. And, we will have an exta $60 a month that will make saving for our December trip to Disneyworld that much easier, eliminating the need to sacrifice little luxuries like gameboy games and chinese take-out. We will still have trust and freedom, but more than that, we all have had the power to decide what works best for us as a family.

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