Is "I Love Lucy" Educational?
The Natural Child Project
By Jan Hunt, M.Sc.
A recent article in "USA Today On Line" described a new U.S. law that
will take effect next year, requiring American TV stations to show a
minimum of three hours of "educational and informative" television each
day, suitable for viewers sixteen and younger. The article quoted
readers' viewpoints on the definition of "educational and informative".
One show that brought about disagreement among readers was "I Love
Lucy," a favorite of mine.
The view of many adult panelists was expressed by a Detroit reader:
"While some of life's valuable lessons may be included in shows designed
primarily for entertainment, that does not qualify them as educational.
Education can be fun, but it is a disciplined activity. 'I Love Lucy'
just doesn't fit the bill."
The children who wrote to USA Today took a different view, pointing out
that "I Love Lucy" teaches valuable lessons about the consequences of
one's actions. They saw Lucy Ricardo, whose escapades often backfire, as
a sort of reverse role model, and the show as something of a morality
play. This is an intriguing perspective, because Shakespeare's plays
developed from comic characters in morality plays, and his theatrical
productions, written for audiences of a broad social background, were
the "popular entertainment" of the day. As author-historian Frank
Wadsworth noted in his World Book entry on Shakespeare, "Most of the
Globe's audience consisted of middle-class citizens, such as merchants
and craftsmen and their wives. They went to the theater for the same
reasons most people today go to the movies - to relax and to escape for
a while from their cares."
Clearly, Shakespeare's plays were written with the intention of
entertaining a mass audience, just as many TV sitcoms and dramas are
written now. At the time they were written, his plays were definitely
not considered "educational and informative"; nor would they have "fit
the bill" as a "disciplined activity". It was only from a later
perspective that Shakespeare's plays were deemed "educational". In his
day, there was even some criticism of Shakespeare as an actor-turned
writer, uneducated in traditional theatrical production. Had television
been invented in Elizabethan times, it does not seem too far-fetched to
imagine that "Hamlet" would have been one of the early shows, criticized
for its violence and passion. Today, of course, Shakespeare's plays are
considered a required part of a "disciplined education," with the
unfortunate result of dissuading many students from enjoying the
pleasures of his works.
Obviously, the determination of whether a production is "educational"
changes over time. Eventually, any show can provide "educational and
informative" material and food for thought on the thinking, fashions,
roles, and lifestyles of its time. In fact, shows like "I Love Lucy" are
currently included in university courses on American cultural history.
Is "I Love Lucy" educational in the ways that most people define that
term? As a writer on parenting issues, I have been impressed with the
way parenting is presented on this show. "Little Ricky" is consistently
treated with more love, kindness and patience than is depicted in most
current television "families". From my perspective, nothing is more
"educational" than that which promotes and models empathic parenting
skills, especially as this essential topic is not included in most
My son, now 16, believes he has learned a great deal from "I Love Lucy",
on many topics of interest. Here are the subjects of some of our
conversations about this show: that a good show requires skilled
writers; that talented actors can improvise some of the best moments in
a show; that most of the currently produced shows are more violent, less
consistent in quality, and more poorly written than earlier shows; that
persistence (such as Lucille Ball insisting that Desi be her costar) can
bring about success; that smoking was common in the fifties and not well
understood; that marital roles have changed over the decades; that an
actor's personal life may be very different from the role he or she
plays; that if you look into history you can sometimes discover where
social changes may have been introduced (such as the three episodes in
which Little Ricky is permitted to join his parents in bed when he
needed emotional support); that even loving couples may not be able to
sustain a marriage ... I could go on and on.
The indisputable point is that children are born with an insatiable
curiosity. As long as we trust this process, and avoid destroying their
curiosity through doubts and threats, and arbitrary, stuffy definitions
of what is "educational" and what is not, a child will continue to learn
from every experience he has. Any arbitrary division of the child's
experiences into "entertainment" and "education" is inaccurate,
misleading, self-defeating, and ultimately harmful.
Something we all know at birth, but which is soon reprogrammed by
well-meaning but misinformed adults, is that anything and everything on
this planet is educational. We do a real disservice when we teach a
child that only some things are "educational", meaning "dull",
"difficult", "serious", "for their own good", and something they would
never want to investigate on their own. This always backfires anyway,
because children receive the unintended but unavoidable message that the
"educational" topic being presented must be difficult and dull,
otherwise why is it being forced on them? Perhaps the most
non-educational thing we can do is to convince children that "education"
equates with "dreariness". Children know intuitively that learning
should be fun. With this definition, "I Love Lucy" certainly "fits the
bill" in our house.
It may be that more people enjoyed Shakespeare's plays when they were
told it was "entertainment" than they do now that they are told it is
"education". Let us hope the same thing never happens to Lucy.