Teaching about Television in the Classroom

By Walker, Robert J. | USA TODAY, January 1995 | Go to article overview

Teaching about Television in the Classroom


Walker, Robert J., USA TODAY


NEVER BEFORE in the history of communication has there been a medium so powerful, popular, and intimate as television. Nor has any inanimate object been the recipient of as much praise and condemnation.

Television can make people laugh or cry, happy or sad. It can change their opinions and take them to places they never have been. Events occurring in one part of the world can be seen in another at the very moment they happen. With all this going for it, TV clearly is a powerful teaching and learning tool.

The medium's influence is not always positive. Even Vladimir Zworykin, the inventor of television, expressed his concern about its ill effects. In 1983, on his 92nd birthday, he stated, "I didn't even dream it would be so good. But I would never let my children come close to the thing."

Television has been blamed for lowering Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, decreasing children's reading ability, lowering youngsters' nutritional levels, reducing intellectual curiosity, and causing a gradual decrease in Americans' physical fitness.

Television also has been held responsible for warping family values, emphasizing sex, violence, and materialism. According to Joe L. Wheeler, author of Remote Controlled, "We have reached the point where 'decency' is so far back in television history that few remember when it was even a factor in programming. Today nothing--no matter how foul, no matter how crude, no matter how obscene, no matter how sacrilegious ... seems to be off limits."

Children, through television, are exposed to more than 9,000 scenes of suggested sexual intercourse, sexual comments, or innuendos each year. In 1992, a Media Research Center one-week study of the prime-time programing of the three major networks cited 846 sexual references. Multiplying this number by 52 weeks would project 43,992 sexual references a year on just the three major networks. For those homes with cable, one only can imagine the astronomical amount of sexual references that come across the TV screen. These figures do not include the many nude shows and R-rated movies on cable. Is there any wonder that teenage pregnancy is at an all-time high? Furthermore, for every scene depicting sexual intercourse between married partners, there are 14 sexual encounters outside of marriage, according to U.S. News & World Report. The American Psychology Association (APA) concluded in 1993 that exposure to sexual inferences depicted on television can be overstimulating to pre-adolescents, who are struggling to develop proper control over their sexual impulses.

According to the APA Task Force on Television Violence, the average child witnesses approximately 8,000 TV murders during his or her elementary school years. Too often, youngsters allow the violent side of television to influence their behavior. Because they spend approximately 1,200 hours in front of the TV screen a year, kids have become desensitized by violent scenes and thereby more apt to carry out such acts themselves. As a direct result, a youngster's value for human life is lessened and distorted, boosting mistrust and insensitivity to the pain of others.

For instance, the movie "Fuzz," televised on the ABC network in October, 1973, showed juvenile delinquents burning a derelict to death for fun. Several days later, six youths poured gasoline over a 24-year-old woman and incinerated her in the same manner they had seen in the TV movie. Incidents such as this are justification for parents and educators to be concerned about violence on television. The APA task force concluded in 1993, after evaluating more than 1,000 studies, that there is a correlation between the viewing of violent material and aggressive behavior.

Moreover, television incessantly solicits the response of immediate gratification. According to the APA, children see approximately 20,000 commercials a year. Every evening, prime-time programs bombard them with 15- and 30-second ads. …

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