The REAL educational impact on children is not taking place in our classrooms. For two decades now, a more powerful influence has been subtly shaping the minds and values of an entire generation. What is that force? How is it affecting us? What should you be doing about it? This article reveals today's REAL school.
HOW WOULD you measure educational impact? Would you judge it in terms of hours expended by the learner? Would you consider the effect on attitudes and behavior? Would you evaluate the influence on tastes in music, art, literature, styles, language, recreation, and even diet? Most people would agree that all of these are important and valid indicators. Considered together, they should certainly measure the degree to which children are being impressed by and changed by any educational agent. Then what if we apply these criteria to the various educational influences in the lives of children today — school, family, church, peer group, mass media, and community? Which of these would you guess to be the greatest educational force in our contemporary society?
The Wrong Answer
Now your first reaction is predictable. No doubt the answer that flashed into your mind was "the schools" — of course. But that's just reflex — a traditional reflex. That was the answer twenty years ago. That is the pat answer our society teaches, but times have changed. Unfortunately that answer is out of date and out of touch with the reality of the Seventies. It just isn't true anymore and it's time we began to admit it. Oh yes, we still go through the motions. We continue to gather tens of millions of children into classrooms daily all across the land just as we have for the past century and a half. We continue to teach a curriculum, which has never quite gotten in step with the times, by methods to match. But imperceptibly, almost without our awareness, our classrooms have lost their influence. Another more powerful educational force has emerged in the past twenty years which has finally relegated the schools to a poor second place in the competition for children's minds. That force is commercial television. All pervasive — all persuasive — uncontrolled TV! The focus of real education has shifted. In 95% of America's homes today, the influence of the "Little Red Schoolhouse" has been all but canceled out by a glowing TV tube in the corner of the living room! Yes, by any measure, whether magnetic appeal, amount of exposure, or power to change behavior, commercial television now wields the major educational impact in the land! Do you take exception to that? Does that sound like a sensational exaggeration? Well if you think this is over-dramatizing the situation, then ponder these statistics.
More TV Than School
Incredible as it sounds, by the time the average American child reaches adolescence he will have viewed about 22,000 hours of television. That's equal to more than two and one-half years of 24-hour-a-day viewing! But, during those same formative years, he will have spent less than 11,000 hours in a school classroom. It's hard to believe, but it's true — twice as much time spent in televiewing as in schooling! Now consider this. Nearly 12 million children between the ages of three and five years do not attend any form of school. Yet, according to the Nielsen Television Index, these preschoolers watch television an average of 54.1 hours each week. No school for these tots, but they are already spending nearly 64% of their waking time passively staring at the great electronic "schoolmarm"! This means that by the time one of these preschool children finally enters kindergarten he has spent more time in front of a television set than an average student in a liberal arts program spends in the classroom throughout his entire four years of college attendance! Think of it! Infants being influenced by TV for the same duration of time it would take to graduate from college! Fantastic! But that's not all. According to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, all- surveys indicate that children and adolescents spend on an average anywhere from one fourth to one half of the waking day before a television screen. Only sleeping time surpasses television as the top time-consumer. Did you really get the significance of that statement? Up to one half of their conscious lives irretrievably gone, without intellectual interaction — slump-shouldered, slack-jawed, and spellbound in living color! Even if the content were entirely edifying, wouldn't that much exposure still be unbalanced? And, that raises some crucial questions we need to ask. "Just what are children watching during these interminable hours?" "What is filling their minds?" In short, "What is the TV curriculum?"
Ugliness — Inanity — Noise and Violence
If any single facet of our national life has been thoroughly surveyed, polled, and researched in recent years, it has been the content of commercial television programming. And, what has been reported over and over again leaves little ground for optimism. Government agencies, educators, broadcasting associations, and journalists are consistently appalled by the exploitive misuse of this most powerful medium. Listen to these shocking reports from reputable sources and bear in mind that this is the curriculum of children in 95% of America's homes — day in and day out. In the words of Dr. Victor B. Cline, a researcher at the University of Utah, here is what the first TV generation has been weaned on. He has estimated that, "... on the average, between kindergarten and 14 years of age, a child witnesses the violent destruction of 13,000 human beings on television." Imagine absorbing that much mayhem by the eighth or ninth grade. Why, even the most hard-bitten combat soldier would never have begun to participate in such slaughter! And, consider this, Dr. Cline didn't include children younger than five years old, yet we know they are watching. If he had extended his figures by even three years the total would be more like 17,300 episodes of violent death viewed before early adolescence. Then, from the television industry itself comes a report by the National Association for Better Broadcasting describing the TV curriculum as, "... a mass of indiscriminate entertainment dominated by some 40 animated series, which in turn are dominated by ugliness, noise, and violence." Anyone who has watched Popeye, Batman, or Tom and Jerry can well sympathize with the Association's distress at the ear-shattering, overwhelming avalanche of punching, zapping, cutting asunder, burning, exploding, head-smashing, brain-jellying, utter annihilation which is portrayed in such "comic" programs. Again, in another important survey, staff members of the Christian Science Monitor watched seventy-five hours of evening programs in the first week of the 1968-69 TV season. Their findings were appalling. During the period of viewing, they recorded 254 incidents of violence — seventy-one murders, suicides, and killings of various kinds plus threats of like treatment. That's better than three such incidents every hour! At that rate our living rooms have become a grotesque killing ground where the screaming never dies out and the blood never dries. Well, so it goes, report after report like a broken, blood-spattered record.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. summed up the situation in his powerful commentary entitled Violence: America in the Sixties. "The children of the electronic age," he wrote, "sit hypnotized by the parade of killings, beatings, gunfights, knifings, maiming, and brawls which flash incessantly across the tiny screen..." (p. 54). And this, my friends, is the TV curriculum — make no mistake about it. It is most interesting that Robert Lewis Shayon, TV and Radio editor for Saturday Review recently made a similar reference. In his words, "Violence, internal and external, is the young generation's hang-up... This is the way our world is; TV tells us so — TV is the true curriculum of our society" (January 11, 1969, p. 103, emphasis ours throughout). Whether we like it or not, the TV script writers and Madison Avenue ad men have literally become the nation's de facto curriculum makers! And, it is quite clear that their curriculum no longer teaches A for apple, B for baby, and C for cat — not anymore! Today it's A for arson and assassination, B for bullying and brutality, and C for crudity and crassness! Depending on the channel you choose, the "Three R's" have become russlin, rasslin, and rawhide; or rock, racket, and ribaldry — all of which adds up to rubbish! And make no mistake, it's having a tremendous effect on young people in every way from their' posture to their personal habits to their very outlook and purpose in life. "But," you may be asking, "is it necessarily a bad effect?" "Don't they say watching TV is not harmful for children?" "In fact, don't they say that watching violence helps children get it out of their system?" "And anyway, don't they say that only criminal types go out and do what they see on TV?" "And don't they say..." Whoa! Hold it! Wait a minute! Who are THEY? And where did you hear what THEY said? Are you sure your sources are reliable? Let's take a hard look at who has been saying what and then maybe we can draw some conclusions about the TV curriculum.
Everyone Is An Expert!
If all the books, pamphlets, dissertations, articles, broadsides, and other miscellaneous documents written about television during the past twenty years were gathered together in one place, they would no doubt fill a large living room. They might not even leave space for the TV set. And, if you were to ask the authors of this mighty pile of literature, you would find that each one considers himself an unquestioned authority on the subject. The situation is not unlike that in the field of education, where virtually every citizen thinks of himself as thoroughly competent to deliver expert opinion merely because he is a product of the system. You have probably heard (or made) the remark, "I can tell you all about our schools because I went to one once!" Well, much the same thing is true with television. Being an owner-viewer or maybe only a viewer of TV seems to qualify anyone's observations regarding the medium as authoritative. Some of these "expert" observations are no doubt based upon sober reflection and research. However, far too many are sheer expressions of personal bias. Unfortunately, the latter type, lacking in scientific objectivity, most often appear in the popular press. And, these tend to form much of the existing mythology regarding TV. If you think about it, you will have to admit tilt most of what you believe about television was acquired in this way. With this in mind, let's scotch the hearsay and challenge the so-called experts. Let's bury some of these misleading fairy tales right now and get things straight. Let's consider the three questions most often raised, because they represent three basic myths of television.
Debunking the Myths
Myth # 1: That research proves the present viewing habits of children and adolescents are not harmful to their development. Contributing to this myth are men of considerable stature. Indeed, widely recognized authorities have fostered this belief. A typical example is a statement by Dr. Wilber Schramm, one of the most highly regarded experts in the field. He is Professor of Communications and Journalism and Director of the Institute for Communication Research at Stanford University. Discussing TV research, he recently wrote in a booklet entitled Children and Television, "I can tell you, as a research scholar, that not one of these studies has been able to show much effect. The latest and largest, the British study of television and children, has just been completed; and the conclusion is that television, so far as results show, is, of itself, neither very good nor very bad in changing the development of children." Myth # 1 Debunked: As is the case with other controversial issues such as the dangers of cigarettes, marijuana, or cholesterol, there are many who refuse to accept any cause-and-effect relationship between the endless hours of television viewing and the frightening deterioration in juvenile behavior. They grasp at any straw which appears to support their position. This is the case here. The foregoing statement by Dr. Schramm is always quoted as if it vindicated television from any harmful influence. Yet, he didn't say that. What he did say was that studies showed TV to be "neither very good nor very bad" in its effect on children. Now by any logic this can only mean that TV is to some extent bad. Just what very bad might mean is a moot question. But if it's only slightly bad, is that acceptable? Is that an endorsement? Is that grounds for claiming no harm? Certainly not! Let's pose the identical situation in a different context. What if it were a medicine or food he was discussing, something you were allowing your child to eat — then what would your reaction be? Would you give him medicine or a meal that was bad for him even if it was only slightly bad? Nonsense! And, don't think for a minute that what a youngster takes into his mind is less important than what goes into his bloodstream. No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. What enters his mind either builds or destroys character and that is really what is at issue here. We're concerned with the educational impact of TV. But another very important question which must be considered in evaluating Dr. Schramm's statement is whether it is valid to judge the effects of American TV on the basis of British research findings? The answer has to be no for several reasons. First, television coverage is by no means as universal in Britain. Certainly nothing like 95% of British homes are equipped with TV. Therefore, they have not begun to reach the saturation that has occurred in the U.S. Second, British television is largely state owned and controlled. There is no proliferation of channels, and consequently programming is not influenced by commercial competition which depends so heavily on the portrayal of violence for "crowd-catching," ratings, and profits. Third, British TV is forbidden to show acts of brutality and violence of the kind that are commonplace on U.S. television. For this reason, children in Britain have not had comparable exposure to such a glut of mayhem. And, fourth, British TV broadcasts only during limited hours and is therefore not available to children 24 hours a day as in the U.S. On this basis alone, the exposure is bound to be significantly less. Obviously the research data are not comparable and should not have been thrown together. But such was the case, and many have been misled while the myth is perpetuated. No, it would require some form of self-delusion or loss of contact with reality to refuse to recognize the harm which has accrued to this TV-saturated generation. As Walter Lippmann has written, "A continual exposure of a generation to the commercial exploitation of the enjoyment of violence and cruelty is one way to corrode the foundations of a civilized society" (in Schlesinger, Violence: America in the Sixties, p. 60). That corrosion has happened! Our first TV-educated generation is now manning the barricades on college campuses across the land! But let the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence lay Myth # 1 to rest once and for all. On September 23, 1969, that group, which was impaneled by former President Johnson, issued its long-awaited and exhaustive report. Remember now, the sources of information upon which the Commission based its conclusions were all available research studies and expert testimony presented by both sides in the controversy. Here is what the report said in part. "The preponderance of available research evidence strongly suggests... that violence in television programs can and does have adverse effects upon audiences — particularly child audiences. "Television," the Commission continued, "enters powerfully into the learning process of children and teaches them a set of moral and social values about violence which are inconsistent with the standards of a civilized society..." That's pretty straightforward and what it clearly means is that present programming policies and viewing habits are harmful — that serious moral and social damage is being done NOW - and that we probably should have changed those practices YESTERDAY! Myth # 2: That by viewing violent and aggressive behavior on television, a child's own aggressive tendencies and impulses are "drained off" or satisfied vicariously with the result that he then is less likely to "act out" his belligerent feelings in real life. Haven't you heard that claim made over and over again? Well, this myth is based upon an application of the Freudian psychoanalytic theory of "catharsis." The underlying belief is that unless aggression is gotten out of one's system by some means, it will supposedly be stored up only to come out later in intolerant attitudes, hatreds, prejudices, and hostile behaviors. Furthermore, it is claimed, failure to release feelings of hostility in childhood can cause neurotic difficulties in later life. It can readily be seen why defenders of violence in TV programming resort to this argument, for if it is true, or as long as people believe it's true, then murder is medicine and trauma is therapy! This belief is so ingrained in educational and psychological thinking as to have virtually become a modern-day superstition. Child psychology books are full of it and again, important authorities subscribe to it, thus keeping the myth alive. Here are just two examples of high-powered experts endorsing the "catharsis" position. Dr. D. McLean, superintendent of Parramatta Psychiatric Hospital, NSW, Australia, told an audience at Sydney University recently that violent television programs could be a positive help in lowering man's natural aggressive potential. He stated that, "This type of program does fulfill [satisfy] some of man's aggressive instincts" (The Australian, July 1, 1968). Another Briton, Lord Hill, the outspoken chairman of BBC, while addressing 500 educators at a conference of the Association of Assistant Masters in Southampton, England, flatly stated that, "Television violence may reduce real life violence" (Daily Express, January 2, 1969). Myth # 2 Debunked: To cling to the "catharsis" argument in 1970 is almost pathetically archaic in view of the volume of solid research evidence available to disprove it. Since 1962 at least four comprehensive and independent studies have clearly demonstrated that long exposure to television aggression generates a corresponding impulse in a child — yes, even a normal child. Perhaps the most interesting if not most conclusive study was done by Alfred Bandura and associates. Briefly, what they did was to expose one group of children to real-life episodes of physical aggression (striking, punching, kicking, etc.) ; another group to the same aggressive episodes in motion pictures; and a third group to aggression shown in movie cartoons. Following the exposure the children were observed in a situation where they were free to behave aggressively and what do you think happened? You guessed it! They copied the belligerent behavior they had observed with great relish, vigor, and enthusiasm without any coaching. Common sense is again confirmed! Just to summarize the findings for you, here are the points to remember in the words of the researchers: "The results of the... study provide strong evidence that exposure to filmed aggression heightens aggressive reactions in children... the available data suggest that, of the three experimental conditions, exposure to humans on film (or TV) portraying aggression was the most influential in eliciting and shaping aggressive behavior." And finally, "The view that the social learning of aggression through exposure to aggressive film content is confined to deviant children finds little support in our, data." In other words, these were normal children who were stimulated to violent behavior (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 66, 1963, pp. 3-11). Yes, children do imitate the aggressive acts and they do try out techniques they see in TV programs about thugs, burglars, rioters, and even hero figures who settle every disagreement with violence. Let's stop flying in the face of reason and lay this "catharsis" myth to rest, never to be mentioned again. The argument that violence on viewed television produces a beneficial effect must be totally discounted as scientifically unsound. Myth # 3: That criminal behavior which seems to be triggered by viewing television violence only occurs in persons who are psychologically "predisposed" to commit such acts in the first place. Support for this myth comes mainly from "expert" opinion. But, the argument that there is no research proving an indisputable cause and effect connection between criminal behavior and televiewing is often thrown in for good measure. Understandably, this theory enjoys great favor with TV producers and writers because it whitewashes them of any responsibility. They would have you believe that if anything evil is done as a consequence of viewing their programs, the person committing the act wanted to do it anyway — he was predisposed to do the foul deed regardless. Therefore, at most, the program only acted as a trigger-mechanism for an already distorted mind. Myth # 3 Debunked: Now this raises a troublesome dilemma for the supporters of this myth, namely, how is such a predisposition acquired? We can't account for it as an inborn or inherited trait — no respectable psychologist would agree to that. Today we are environmentalists. We explain all behavior in terms of the past personal and social experiences of an individual's life. Remember, the byword is, "Nobody is born bad — society made him what he is!" That being the case, then any predisposition to violence must be accounted for by an individual's own experiences with violence. Carrying the logic a step further we ask, "What is the greatest source of exposure to violence for infants, children and youth today?" Answer: TELEVISION! The inescapable conclusion has to be that television itself is the heaviest contributor to antisocial predispositions in our society today! Violence in television programming conditions the mind, teaches the techniques, and then precipitates the action. To summarize simply, "Violence breeds violence." No, it is not the deviates alone, as we saw in Bandura's study, who are stimulated to brutal behavior by TV, but normal children as well. In his book, Television and the American Character — A Psychiatrist Looks at Television, Dr. Eugene David Glynn offered this sobering speculation regarding the long-run effect of unrestricted televiewing. "Those traits," he said, "that sick adults now satisfy by television can be presumed to be those traits which children exposed to television... all through the character-forming years may be expected to develop." There is the predisposition that television is teaching — a predisposition to mental illness. Is it happening in your home? Far from blaming others, TV producers and writers who have pandered to violence are themselves largely responsible for the brutalization of the first TV generation. And so, the "predisposition" myth bites the dust along with the "catharsis" idiocy and the "no harm" nonsense. These three phony, pseudo-scientific sounding arguments have lulled the public into complacency too long. They are utterly untrue and completely discredited. They should no longer clutter our minds or deter our determination to take charge of our children's education by controlling the television curriculum.
You're the School Board
In a "Walter Mitty" sort of way, nearly every parent has subconsciously wanted to run the schools. We've all dreamed about what we would do if we were on the school board. We would straighten this out and change that and things would be a whole lot different in short order. But, few of us ever get the chance. Well, now is your chance! You're the PRESIDENT of the school board! Yes, you're not only president of the school board, but you're also the principal of that one-room school in your own living room! You can decide on school hours. You can select the curriculum. You can lay down the rules for classroom behavior. You can monitor the electronic "schoolmarm" and evaluate her teaching any time. In short, you can decide how your school will be run. But remember, as president of the board and principal, you are also responsible to enforce all these decisions. You MUST TAKE CHARGE of the TV curriculum!
First, understand the absolute fact that early childhood experiences make indelible impressions. They lay the foundation for character and personality development. This is a very old truth. As far back as the 5th century B.C. we have Plato's observation that, "... the young are not able to distinguish what is and what is not allegory, but whatever opinions are taken into the mind at that age [two to seven] are wont to prove indelible and unalterable" (The Republic, Book II). Then Aristotle came along at about the same time and left us some advice about what to do. He said, "On this account, we ought to make all base things unfamiliar to the young, and especially those that involve either depravity or malignity." His dogmatic recommendation was to "... banish indecent talk... for light talk about anything disgraceful soon passes into action... banish the seeing of either pictures or representations that are indecent..." (Politics, Book VII). Well, that's pretty up-to-date talk for the "ancients." And the interesting thing is that nothing has changed in the past 2,500 years. Modern behavioral research agrees. Character development is still determined the same way in 1970. The lesson here is to eliminate violence, lawlessness, indecency, and pornography in all forms from your child's TV curriculum. And it's simple. It only takes the moral determination to twist a dial or flick a switch. Second, young children want to respect the school principal and they will imitate his example. But you're the principal now, remember? That means your personal TV viewing habits must be discriminating and selective. It's a "monkey see, monkey do" situation and you are being watched. Don't expect what you are unwilling to do yourself. Third, effective learning requires interaction between teacher and pupil; and here is one great weakness of the TV curriculum. There will be no interaction in your school unless you make an effort to supply it yourself. The electronic "schoolmarm" talks, but she never listens! You will need to make yourself available as much as possible to interpret, explain, clarify, correct wrong ideas, criticize certain content, relate new facts to past experiences, etc. Only in this way can you effectively control what is being learned. Fourth, every school takes recesses and yours should too. As a matter of fact, the recesses in your school should be considerably longer than the class sessions. A single program at a time is probably a good general rule and then a recess to engage in some other activity. Your school should be teaching balance in all things — so encourage a wide variety of physical and intellectual interests. And remember, the principal is first of all a leader. That means you must get involved in other activities yourself. Fifth, establish, and enforce some school policies regarding behavior in your classroom. Here are some to start with: (1) Good posture is important to good health, so there should be appropriate furniture handy and no sprawling or hunch-backed, slack-jawed, semiconscious viewing permitted. (2) A program which has been selected as worthy of watching should receive undivided attention for the duration. (3) Horseplay or other behavior which interferes with the enjoyment of others is out and should carry a penalty. (4) The dining room is for eating and except for an occasional snack there should be no eating in the classroom. The sessions should be short enough so no one is likely to starve anyway. (5) And, of course, school hours must be strictly observed. Sixth, the TV curriculum should only be a small part of a youngster's education. Each should also be learning lessons through chores, responsibilities, and other obligations. When required, these must take priority over televiewing without any quibbling. And finally, all schools take vacations for rest and a change of pace. Why not try closing your one-room school for vacation a day or two once in a while. Just unplug the set and ignore it. You may discover you were in a rut. You may also rediscover the joys of family conversation and companionship which the TV curriculum cannot provide.
Accentuate the Positive
Yes, the real school, the real curriculum, the real educational force today is commercial television. And, unfortunately, it is teaching mostly rubbish! But remember, nobody is requiring COMPULSORY ATTENDANCE in this school. You still have freedom of choice. You can still take it or leave it, so it's up to you. Be selective and accentuate the positive in TV programming. The mind you save may be your own — or your child's.