Beginning my sophomore year at back at The Mount, our homeroom mod was filled with the sound of a heavily-produced television show geared at making us more attuned to what was going on around us. Based on what I know now, we were one of the first schools to receive Channel One after it made its national debut in 1990. Considering the fact that it’s an all-boys Catholic school, we probably enjoyed benefiting from the free television installations.
When it launched, Channel One was one of the first real attempts to get young adults to care about the news using video. It definitely wasn’t the first, with Newspapers in Education being the most prominent example I can think of. (I still think of reading USA Today and The New York Times for class back in 8th grade.) The commercials that used to run during the news broadcast were limited to spots encouraging us to join the U.S. Army and to try some gum back in ’90. There were some public service announcements, but apparently it was tame compared to the types of spots airing now and causing some groups to ask officials to consider discontinuing the service.
That’s at least how the case is being framed here in Alabama as a group is asking the state superintendent to remove the service from schools still choosing to participate. The situation here has been brewing for some time though it’s picked up steam this week. A quick online search points out pieces written about the situation (like this one published in The New Republic) dating back as far as 1999. Then there’s the website set up by Jim Metrock called Obligation, Inc. that serves as a clearinghouse of information about what they perceive as problems with not only the twelve-minute broadcasts and the advertising associated with it, but similar projects like BusRadio. It’s important to point out that the call for removal this time is from a non-profit organization based in Boston, the Campaign for a Commerical-free Childhood – a group that sent similar letters to the other 41 states that have significant subscriptions with the service (in addition to one sent to the District of Columbia).
Is it the best way to reach out to young people and hope they want to be aware of what’s going on around them? I still remember when Brother George turned off the television and yelled at us up one side and down the other for not paying attention as they first reported about this country’s first invasion into Iraq. It wasn’t exactly getting the job done back then as it took a war veteran to get a bunch of guys who though they were invincible to recognize one day they had to accept they weren’t and that life can get serious.
It probably should have been a big hint as to how our attention spans have changed since…
That said, the idea it’s taking time away from actual learning would depend on when show was viewed by the students. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we watched during homeroom, meaning we weren’t in class and most likely wouldn’t be doing anything other than hearing announcements of importance to the entire school anyway (which still happened before the television was turned on). I’d be interested in when it was being shown during the school day and if they were being aired during actual instructional time.
There is a need to demonstrate to youth the idea that they should care more about what’s going on in the world than who’s getting married and divorced and what the latest and greatest video game is supposed to be. Channel One may cease to be that solution, but I’d like to know what other options are out there right now that work? Do we need to figure out a new one based on what’s currently available?
Most importantly – how do we pay for whatever option we come up with?