Commercial television becomes a formal part of the Baltimore school curriculum this September, when city schools will start showing "Channel One" programs produced by Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn.
The 12-minute news and information programs -- complete with two minutes of commercials -- will be beamed by satellite to middle schools and high schools throughout the city. It was approved by the school board last night.
The programs will be shown in the classrooms, with teachers expected to use them as part of homeroom periods or social studies classes, subject to review and approval each day by school staff.
In exchange, participating schools will get free satellite dishes, videocassette recorders, internal wiring and color television sets, along with free maintenance.
The programming would be phased in over a period of about six months. Individual schools would have the choice of whether to participate, though most have said they will, according to an education department spokesman.
Channel One is part of the Whittle Educational Network, a package of services offered by the textbook publisher.
More than 20 public and private school systems around the country currently participate in the Channel One program.
Whittle has moved to deflect criticism about the program's commercial nature by noting that it does not include advertising for certain types of products, including alcohol, tobacco and contraceptives.
But the prospect of any commercial television in the classroom drew strong objections from one dissenting school board member and milder concern from another who voted for the program.
"I generally believe that children watch too much television as it is," said James E. Cusack, the only board member to vote against participating in Channel One.
He decried the "mixture of consumerism and education" in Whittle's concept and warned that "Madison Avenue is mighty slick these days in how they sell what they want to sell."
And Meldon Hollis, who brought Channel One up for a vote and supported it, said he was concerned.
"My reservation has to do with youngsters being a captive audience," said Hollis after the vote. He also voiced concern about "delivering a market to the private sector."
But Hollis also noted that Channel One received strong support from principals and parent groups.
Most principals are looking forward to the programming and the free hardware it will bring, said Sheila Kolman, president of the principal's union.
"It is a wonderful opportunity to make our kids aware of what is happening in the world, as well as a fantastic way to equip our buildings," she said.
In other action last night, the school board approved $614,000 in start-up money for the pilot school restructuring program that will be implemented at 14 schools starting next school year.