Fast Company

Education: Reality TV -- It's Visual and Kinesthetic Learning!

CBS's new reality show "Kid Nation" has sparked outrage, or at the very least, strong concerns that:


  1. the child participants were exploited, and;

  2. this violated New Mexico's child labor laws.


But in a recent twist, which came just before the show's Wednesday night premiere, it turns out that the show is actually...educational programming.

Or at least, as reported by The New York Times, CBS took at least one step toward spinning the show's message in that direction by screening it for schoolchildren in seven cities nationwide. Reportedly, the show received an enthusiastic response. (Click here and here for two local reports.)

I suppose "Kid Nation" could be educational, not in subjects like math or history, but in the great school of life. The participants have to create a town from scratch, first divvying up basic tasks like cooking (which for an elementary-schooler would be a challenge), then they move up to bigger tasks toward building their own society. There's a monetary reward for the best leader at the end of each show, which encourages a meritocracy of sorts -- something the American education system also tries to reinforce. In an era in which adolescence extends well into the twenties, exposing children at an early stage to real-world responsibility -- provided it doesn't veer off into child labor -- may have some selling points.

According to The New York Times' review of the show, critics have deemed it a "Lord of the Flies for voyeurs." Then again, that presents another educational opportunity: pair screenings of "Kid Nation" with a study of the William Golding novel. Hey, it beats the black-and-white film and probably the book itself (definitely one of my three least favorite reading assignments in high school).

Whatever creative lesson plans may come about from the show, the enthusiastic response from the students, teachers, and parents who saw it in advance certainly helped its PR. The show, according to Nielsen, won its 8 p.m. time slot among viewers aged 2-11 and 18-49 and attracted 9.4 million viewers overall. Even if this may not be the most spectacular premiere ever, it's far from being a ratings bomb. If CBS can spread the word that "Kid Nation" is a classroom hit, it may persuade even more former critics of "Kid Nation" to watch -- and inspire a different kind of education along the way.

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