The Tyranny of Having Fun: Playing Our Way


The Tyranny of Having Fun: Playing Our Way

In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death,, Neil Postman has included a chapter entitled Media as Epistemology. A most insightful designation, its three words say more than do many books.

Epistemology is the sometimes rather opaque study of knowledge, its origins, nature and theology. Truth and knowledge are conveyed to us in many different ways. Their manner of conveyance has a direct and lasting effect and often leaves its imprint on the meaning of what we learn. Living in a print-based culture, we have developed a respect for that medium, an innate regard for its depth and discipline. To read the book still is more admirable to some people than seeing the movie.

We do not live by cliché or proverb, though these small tools do often come in handy. Oral tradition must be written down in order to convince. Martin Luther believed that the printed word was God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward. [1] The word, written by the hand or read by the eye, has set the standard.

A contrast is seen in the modern idea- conveyance of television, a medium of cliché and the quick wit. Robert MacNeil, former executive editor and co-anchor of the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, has written that the concept of television is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required ... to pay attention to no concept, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time.[2]

If Fun Rules

The point for home schoolers is that many parents are caught up in the madness of this American urge for everything quick, easy and entertaining. The demand for having fun is a frequent measure of curriculum and methodology. Ultimate goals and excellence often are given second or third place when the fun-issue rules. The cause is often an unruly, uncooperative child, a problem that won’t go away by trying to have fun.

Of course the saying goes, "Why not make it fun to learn?" Indeed, why not? Does schooling have to be drudgery or boring? Is there some redeeming factor that comes with strait-laced methodology? The answer is no, but the answer also depends on what we mean by fun. The complaint that something isn’t fun often masks a more basic protest, one having to do with attitude.

Fun As Relief

The reality of the world that God created is that fun is not our first priority. Having fun as a leading component of the teaching-learning process may temporarily provide some relief in a strained family situation, but its long-term effects are uniformly detrimental. The demand for having fun in everything we do is, itself, a frequent characteristic of Humanism, the religion of man. The demands of life, our fallen natures that still cry for sinful tolerance all require a serious approach to learning.

We’re Only Young Once

Some want a fun curriculum because they envision childhood exclusively as playtime. The little children I know have a different slant. They want to be thought of as older. Their ages are always six-and-a-half, or eight-almost nine. They love to be given real responsibility and they make play out of their work.

Children should not be taught to demand play and fun as the measure of value and success. A genuine Christian work ethic counts labor and responsibility as a gift from God. A child who is conditioned to expect everything to be fun will grow up to be a person who is disillusioned.

Epistemology And The Media

Postman, quoting Northrup Frye, says, For, like the printing press, television is nothing less than a philosophy of rhetoric. [3] Frye gives his description of what he calls "resonance". Through resonance a particular statement [or idea] in a particular context acquires a universal significance. [4] Words and expressions take on meaning from the manner in which they are used or conveyed. One of the particular points in Amusing Ourselves To Death has to do with the inferior nature of television as a medium. Sesame Street is a prime example of fun-oriented, light entertainment education that drills children on non-concentration and superficiality. The format teaches children to hate the real classroom and to love tv.

Conditioned to expect fun, many children encounter difficulty in later challenges when fun isn’t on the menu. Though university instructors often resort to fun and frolic in order to spice up their courses, serious and Christian teachers follow a different philosophy. Learning, itself, is fun. Work is fun when our motivation is right. Games and entertainments are not needed to attract and interest the child called, in Christ, to learn obedience.

A Theology of Fun

The Bible doesn’t say anything about having fun. I doesn’t say that having fun is bad, nor does it say fun is good. Perhaps the popular idea of fun is a by-product of other, more substantial things.

Reasons for rejoicing are given in God’s Word. Joy and gladness are said to characterize someone who delights in the Lord. In the Psalms we read, Happy is that people whose God is the Lord. [Ps 144:15b]

We are told repeatedly that the man is blessed whose delight is in the law of the Lord. The ordinances of God seem to be a primary source of hope and happiness. All of this sounds a lot like an excellent basis for being able to have fun.

Jesus Christ was not a joke teller. He never spoke on the lighter side, but He did use a kind of wry humor and even sarcasm when He confronted the proud Pharisees and Jewish leaders. He called them white-washed graves and snakes. His divine power enabled Him to make cocks crow on command and fish swarm into nets in order to establish His point.

He, like all the Prophets before Him, had the heavy truths of life and eternity in mind. His medium was the Word of Truth, straight-forward and unencumbered.

Learning to be diligent, work as hard as we can and carefully obeying parents will bring happiness. These are the ingredients of real fun. Meeting our responsibilities faithfully and doing what God has called us to do is the most fun.

Fun And Curriculum

The application of the biblical principles of fun point to an academic program that establishes a sound foundation in the basic grammar of learning and then builds on that foundation. We have the most fun when we are satisfied and fulfilled, when we work hard and finish our assignments.

The Trivium concept is what we recommend at Covenant Home Curriculum. For young children this means the enjoyable job of memorization of the fundamentals of each subject. It means a certain amount of drill and repetition of the data. This is called the grammar stage. Later, the application phase, the dialectic, is engaged. Students begin to try their wings. They question and challenge the facts in seeking a good understanding. Finally, the rhetoric stage is undertaken. Here the student begins to be able to express and assert what has been learned.

A curriculum that doesn’t produce quick, surface results is needed. Preparation, reading of classics, study of Latin, note-taking, outlining skills, writing of essay and short-answer tests, memorization of long passages of Scripture, outlining of lectures and textual material, analytical book reports . . . these are some of the primary components of a program that can generate fun in the truest sense.

Rev. Dale K. Dykema

End Notes:

  1. Luther’s notes on ...
  2. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death, the Penguin Group, New York, 1985, p.105.
  3. ibid. p.17.
  4. ibid. p.54.
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