My Critical Thinking Little Pony
Ah. So nice to be able to let Rose veg out in front of the television and know that at least she is getting some positive critical thinking messaging at the same time.
Before this year, I had never watched My Little Pony but had always heard through the skeptic network that it came down firmly on the side of science. So when I was looking for things to watch with Rose, it seemed like a pretty good option.
It’s not that she doesn’t watch complete rubbish as well, but I do try to put things in her selection of choices* that are educational or inspiring or at least not detrimental to her development and well-being.
Today, while I was feeding the baby, Rose watched a new episode of My Little Pony (season 8, episode 20 “Leap of Faith”). I inadvertently listened in from the other room and was thrilled with what I heard.
In short: Granny Smith takes a tonic and it makes her feel miraculously young again. She sets about doing a range of exciting and dangerous stunts, wowing ponies everywhere. Apple Jack is suspicious and works out that the tonic is a fake and the advert promoting its effects is staged. At first he (she?)** accepts the tonic based on the good that it appears to be doing Granny, but as Granny’s activities become more and more dangerous s/he exposes the tonic for what it is, nothing but juice. Apple Jack’s pony mates raise the age-old question “what harm can it do” since it appears to be helping Granny. Apple Jack puts the woo firmly in its place: “Believing in something can help you do amazing things, but if that belief is based on a lie, eventually it’s going to lead to real trouble.”
In this day and age of aggressive and psychologically sneaky advertising, learning young not to take all things at face value is a great lesson. Having the “what harm can it do” justification debunked early is also extremely valuable. And understanding the placebo effect and how it can make us assign value to thinks that are basically neutral is yet another useful insight. All in all, not bad for a 20 minute kids’ show.
The rest of the season hasn’t wowed me with its science content or critical thinking, but as far as I am aware (and no, I have not watched all 20 episodes), there is nothing anti-science to worry about. What’s more, the values messages that inundate the shows have been in line with my own values and have resonated strongly with my little one. (The “elements of harmony” – friendship, loyalty, kindness, honesty — are now a key feature of her engagement with the world.)
My guilt about dumping my dumpling in front of the TV to cool her heels while I attend to her younger sister is somewhat assuaged. Now I can feel that while my grubby princess-pirate sprawls across the couch, filthy feet destroying my lovely beige upholstery, she is not only receiving a good refresher in values, but is also getting an educational primer in skepticism.
* We call these child traps. They take the form of specific toys, games and TV programmes artfully left in plain view while others are packed away out of sight.
** I can never work out what gender some of the ponies are supposed to be. Not that it matters, except for my choice of pronoun. Rose always corrects me and then uses a mix of pronouns herself.