We made the decision a while back to get rid of our satellite TV and just have the free channels. I was willing to give up satellite but not my Tivo- the convenience offered by this gadget not to mention the fact that I never have to watch annoying commercials made it worth the initial investment. Through our Tivo device we get an added bonus- we can instantly watch unlimited movies streamed to the TV through our online DVD rental service. The choices are somewhat limited but there is an abundance of documentaries available and we have taken full advantage of this.
Admittedly the kids usually don't watch the entire movie; documentaries can be a little dry for nine and 10 year olds. However they do generally watch bits and pieces and want to explain and this opens up an opportunity for discussion. These discussions are usually only a few minutes long but I've heard them bringing up things in other conversations so I know they are retaining it.
We've watched documentaries about people, events, science, history, controversial ideas, politics, religion and more. There is no doubt that we are all learning a lot of factual information but the real beauty of this experience has been the way I've seen my kids learn to discern information. They are asking great questions and sometimes even disagree with the information being presented. I love that they are learning that just because an "expert" says something is true that doesn't make it so- they are questioning and forming their own opinions based on the facts that are presented. They are also noticing that sometimes facts are left out to make an opinion seem stronger.
These documentaries have highlighted for me that more and more the focus of our educational philosophy is not on facts and figures but how to interpret those facts and figures. We are learning how to learn, learning how to think.