Friday, February 9, 2007

Baby Einstein plays the cello, sort of

President Bush has been criticized for honoring Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of Baby Einstein, in his State of the Union Address, essentially giving her product, educational videos for babies, free advertising and presidential approval.

Baby Einstein (and products like it) is considerd by many to be a wrong-headed approach to education; at worst, a contributing risk factor for autism by promoting passive tv-watching over active engagement; at best, simply a video baby sitter to keep the kids amused while mom makes dinner. Anxious parents, eager to give their children educational advantages, are a ready market for such products.

A suit was brought against Baby Einstein by Commercial Free Childhood last May for deceptive advertising. According to CFC, tv viewing will not make you smarter, but may in fact be harmful to children, interfering with cognitive development, language development and regular sleep patterns. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 2 not watch television at all.

The name Baby Einstein implies that the videos will increase your child’s intelligence. An odd choice of names, since, of course, Einstein himself was not considered brilliant as a baby himself. He didn’t talk until he was three, and not fluently until he was 9.

Twenty years ago, when our children were babies, there were similar products on the market. Even then, these videos and educational television for young children, in general, were criticized, in books like The Hurried Child (Elkind).

I haven’t seen any of the videos or listened to any of the CDs, but would have to say that the content of the Meet the Orchestra CD/DVD sounds fine. It introduces the various sections of the orchestra and works which feature those instruments. However, any parent can introduce their children to classical music (and jazz, folk music, etc.) by playing CDs, turning on the radio, providing music-making toys, and/or taking them to concerts and similar events. Or playing his/her cello for them.

My big complaint about the product is about the illustration on the cover of the CD/DVD. Look at that duck’s bow hold! Not to mention the inefficent use of the left hand and total lack of a cello chair.

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