Turn on, tune in

June 24, 1991

The furor over allowing a controversial news and advertising program to be shown in city public schools should have been foreseen by the school board. Obviously there were pros and cons to the proposal. But while the basic decision was right, the way it was communicated to the public was exceedingly clumsy.

The plan would allow the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Whittle Communications to beam two minutes of commercials and 10 minutes of educational programming a day into city classrooms. In return, schools participating in the program would receive $50,000 in free TV and video equipment.

Baltimore wouldn't be the first school system to allow commercial programming in the classroom; Whittle's "Channel One" program is used in some 20 school systems nationwide. But some parents have questioned whether students are being exploited by being forced to watch more television, making them vulnerable to advertisers. Some national school and parent organizations also oppose commercial programming in schools.

These are reasonable concerns, but the danger is probably exaggerated. Kids already see the equivalent of several hours of commercials a week on regular TV; two minutes at school won't significantly affect their outlook. But the video equipment made available as part of the deal could be put to good educational use beyond the Whittle-generated programs. That is why most city school principals are in favor of the idea.

The school board rightly judged the benefits to outweigh the potential risks. If fault is to be found, it is that the board failed to marshal the public support needed to make its decision stick.

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