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Television's impact on children.

Children ages 6-11 spend more time watching television than they do in class. Children sometimes believe what they hear and see on TV more than what their parents, teachers and books tell them. But what does television teach? Teach the Children, a PBS documentary, scrutinizes television's hidden curriculum.

Clips from Saturday morning cartoons, sit-coms and music videos are intercut with commentary by critics, scholars and network executives. The film explores the values television communicates, role models it provides, behavior it motivates and cognitive skills it encourages.

"How is it possible that television, the unparalleled education medium, could also serve as an instrument of commercial child abuse?" asks television historian Erik Barnouw. Teach the Children addresses this question and suggests implications for the future.

The primary lesson of television's ads, product-based cartoons and insistent stress on fashion, style and conspicuous consumption is "You are what you buy." Other TV curriculum staples are sex, violence and anti-intellectualism.

Most programs watched by children are made for adults, be it America's Most Wanted or Married with Children. The 20,000 murders an average child watches by the time he/she is a teenager normalizes violence. Scholars explain how heavy TV viewing contributes to aggressive behavior, shortened attention spans and diminished cognitive skills.

How did we let this happen? It's a far cry from the "university of the air" originally promised by broadcasters. Teach the Children chronicles the history of television and public policy, including decisions to drop weekday kids' shows like Mr. Wizard in favor of more profitable action series. The U.S. is one of the only countries to give commercial interests almost unfettered control over what enters people's living rooms.

What can be done? The documentary suggests parents and educators teach children critical viewing. It also argues for more advocacy. Another option is lobbying local stations and politicians to limit commercials and press for more educational content.

This documentary is available for rent or purchase. It is 56 minutes long and comes with a 16-page users guide containing reports on recent research and legislation, a policy history, an action guide and a resource list. It also outlines a complete media policy module for classroom and informal study. For information, contact California Newsreel, 149 9th St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-621-6196; FAX 415-621-6522.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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