“Baby Einstein Made My Child Dumb”! Yeah, Right!

Learning begins at home. I am a staunch believer of that view point, and take my responsibility as my daughter’s first teacher very seriously. My husband and I try to fill our house with fun-yet-educational toys, lot of colorful books, and educational DVDs. Debbie is perfectly happy looking at her books or playing with her toys. She also has loads of time to play outdoors, and loves running around the house hollering and chasing a ball as much as playing a tame game of ‘cooking’ indoors.

She is also a BIG FAN of children’s videos on YouTube, and educational DVDs. She loves Baby Einstein videos, Sesame Street songs, Dora the Adventurer (her favorite!), and anything with lots of toys or animals, colors, and loud music! I admit that I have a very selfish reason for letting her watch them… that’s the only time I can get her to stop hating food long enough to eat it!! Don’t get me wrong, we do have really fun eating time, when we don’t watch TV and concentrate on finishing what’s on the plate. Debbie can feed herself, and she does enjoy doing it. But sometimes, she gets it into her head that she can live on love and fresh air! and there is nothing a mother can do to change her mind… other than switching on the computer or the television…

Apart from the obvious value of these videos and DVDs (!), I really believe they are useful to a child’s learning process. Which is why I was shocked at the study published by the University of Washington, that the Baby Einstein DVDs make children… dumb… (to be very blunt)! The study says:

The scientists found that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them. Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies on toddlers 17 to 24 months of age.

Well, I don’t know about that. Baby Einstein videos have pictures of these large and colorful toys in the shape of animals and other shapes that a child needs to learn about. I think it is much better to let a child learn the names of shapes, animals, fruits, vegetables etc. through song, music and fun than through getting a book out, pointing at objects and loudly repeating the names!

And anyway, unless parents simply dump their children in front of a TV or computer for hours together, I don’t think these DVDs are going to do any major damage. If parents want to take the easy way out and let their children watch TV all day, I think the children were destined for limited intelligence, DVDs on not! As a parent, it is my responsibility to decide how much time my child watches videos, how much reading time she gets, and how she learns about the world. If I go wrong with my planning, I don’t think I have the right to blame any one else for my bad judgment.

The Baby Einstein Company seems to be doing something good for children across the world. They are parents too, so I am guessing they must possess some parenting experience! Give them a break! Come on!! They are normal parents who decided to make a fun video for their kids… we’re blaming them that they did not do their research?!!? Ok, so the scientists who made nuclear bombs do a lot of research, so I guess wiping away an entire country is acceptable… I mean, criticising their work is one thing, but thinking people deserve a refund!?!?! Really now!

Too many people now are looking to shift the blame on some one else for just about anything. If your baby is not an Einsten before he is 2, maybe that DVD is to blame; if your boy is roughing up classmates in school, maybe the teachers are to blame; if your child broke the law, maybe the society is to blame… when a person commits murder, maybe the people who ignored him at work are to blame…

When did mistakes stop depending on the wrong choices a person made, and start depending on everybody else’s behavior? When do WE take responsibility for our mistakes? And when will we teach our children that when they become adults, THEY are answerable for their mistakes, and that they cannot shift the blame?

I for one cannot believe that some DVD is being blamed for children’s lack of learning. What do you think?

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Posted On August 24, 2009

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Wolfram Alpha – Alpha? Really?

The Wolfram Alpha, launched on May 15, 2009, wolframalpha2claims to be a computational engine that has all the answers to your queries.  It has initiated much discussion on whether it will kill Google, taking over as the ultimate search engine, or will simply be a ‘nerdy’ assistant on someone’s science project.

The Atlantic carries an article on the useful features of Wolfram Alpha, and how it really provides answers while search engines like Google and Kosmix only claim to do so.  The writer says that Google only shows us the direction to pages that it thinks are relevant.

ZDNet wonders if Wolfram Alpha is a Wikipedia Killer, while SearchEngineLand.com says that WA is what they would call “Un-Google”. Pretty high praise, also seconded by ITProPortal.com and DailySEOblog.com.

Others are not so sure.  Epicenter says WA simply fails the cool test.  Ryan Singel describes it as “the nerdy kid the other kids only talk to when they need help with a physics exam…”!  I have to agree on that.  WA brings up only facts and figures, no matter what the search term is.  Google, on the other hand, brings up results from all spectrums, from facts and trivia to entertainment and Twitter updates.  If facts are all you want, we do have Wikipedia, which is the input of many people, whereas WA is one entity’s research.  Blogs.com says that Wolfram Alpha is a huge nerd, in spite of its winning computation moments.

Mashable’s post on Wolfram Alpha lists out 5 things that WA does better than Google: complex queries, localization, precision, calculation, and comparison.  I can only imagine a silver-haired science professor working on his post-doctoral, staring with admiration at Wolfram Alpha, lapping up the facts and figures it doles out.  I simply cannot picture me or any other Internet surfer looking for some normal useful info on Wolfram Alpha.

So, who is WA for? CNet News carries the comments of some users who say that WA is for ‘the tech crowd – the kind of people who want to dig into the data’.  Another user says he would not recommend it to normal users as WA is very picky about search terms and accuracy of words and spellings, which difficulty you would never face on Google (italics is mine).

In a lighter vein, one user says how he entered his own name into Wolfram Alpha, and the engine responded with a very curt “Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input”!  I received the same response when I searched for this ‘Ad Libitum’, whereas on Google I would have found my Twitter account, a post from this blog, and at least one other human being who has a blog with the same name.

In conclusion, go to Wolfram Alpha by all means, but only when you have some serious facts and figures to crunch, or when your science paper is due tomorrow.  For a more thorough search of the entire online world use Google, or if you want them arranged according to your interests, use Kosmix.  If you want a scholarly look at the topic, look up Wikipedia.

Wolfram Alpha has a long way to go if it wants to nudge out these big fellas…!

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Other sites I referred to:

Technology Review

Geeks are Sexy

LockerGnome.com