Television & America's Children: A Crisis of Neglect

By Williams, Suzanne H. | Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1989 | Go to article overview

Television & America's Children: A Crisis of Neglect


Williams, Suzanne H., Journalism Quarterly


PALMER, EDWARD L., Television & America's Children: A Crisis of Neglect. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 194 pp. $18.95.

This newest book by Edward L. Palmer was released at a particularly appropriate time in the lengthy debate over children's programming on television. A long-awaited bill addressing broadcasters' responsibilities to children passed the House of Representatives in June 1988. The Senate push for a stronger bill was derailed in October with promises of hearings next year. Thus, although this bill was eventually killed by a pocket veto from President Reagan, the debate is not dead but will emerge as one of the priorities of the 101st Congress. Palmer structures the debate by appraising the current state of children's television as a crisis. He argues for a national policy regarding television programming for children and makes specific suggestions regarding what that policy should be.

The crisis is that there is no children's programming on the three major commercial television networks on weekdays when 90% of all child viewing takes place, and the programming, which these networks offer, is almost totally entertainment. The chronically underfunded public television system cannot be expected to shoulder the entire load. And, in the foreseeable future, cable television cannot be expected to serve more than 75% of the population, with the economically disadvantaged most likely remaining unwired. Palmer also draws sharp contrasts between children's programming in the United States and that in Great Britain and Japan, both of which have fewer people but provide more complete educational television service to their children. His purpose is not to suggest that we should adopt another system, but by comparison to point out the weaknesses within our system and to suggest alternatives.

Palmer's argument is compelling on a number of levels. He points to the unique, nonthreatening, nonpunitive role that television can play in education, not replacing the school curriculum but preparing for and adding to the work accomplished in the schools. He focuses on Children's Television Workshop and its awardwinning programs "Sesame Street, "Electric Company," and "3-2-1 Contact" as proof of the potential for television to aid in the educational process as a model for the integration of artistic and educational goals. He also notes the costefficiency of using television for education and its social equity.

Palmer's proposal is to provide children in four-year age bands with a four-year cycle of age-appropriate educational programming to be viewed each weekday. …

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