Channel One Foes Unconnected to 'Grass Roots'On Nov. 12...


November 28, 1992

Channel One Foes Unconnected to 'Grass Roots'

On Nov. 12, The Sun published an article, authored by Mindy Mintz, director of Students First, in which the Baltimore City public schools were castigated for having "sold out" their students for material gain, namely television monitors and video cassette recorders.

To allow that accusation to stand unchallenged would be a disservice to the more than 30 secondary principals who supported the idea of subscribing to Channel One, produced by Whittle Communications.

The allegations contained in the article bring into question the integrity, competence and commitment of these administrators, most of who I know and respect for their years of dedicated service and their exercise of ethical behavior.

The Mintz commentary cites as a detriment to students the two minutes of commercials that Whittle includes as required


I find this argument flawed and bogus on many levels. First, extrapolating over the period of school year the two minutes into a loss of a day of instruction is a specious ploy, apparently designed to alarm the casual reader.

Consider that if students spend five minutes between classes or 30 minutes per day, they lose 16.6 days of instruction a year. Such extrapolations represent machinations with numbers and nothing about context or substance.

What data are offered to prove that the two minutes of commercial time sell the product in question?

The reality is that African-American students (more than 80 percent of all secondary students) have not been shown to be particularly swayed by mainstream messages, commercial or otherwise. The problems attendant to bridging the culture gap is presented in detail in the recently released report, "Reaching the Hip-Hop Generations."

Empirically, those of us who interface with our youth know that the fashions, language and behavior reflect peer influences passed along through a cultural underground, totally disconnected with commercial television messages.

For example, a leading maker of athletic footwear spent millions in television commercials to promote a shoe with a pumping device for use on the basketball court. Try to find an urban, African-American wearing the pump shoe on a basketball court.

So much for the influence of two minutes of commercial air time -- even with big name NBA personalities.

On the other hand, observe the proliferation of fashion wear adorned with the letter "X." Try to find a television commercial promoting this trend.

I will concede that there are messages being communicated via the Channel One project -- subliminal messages. One is that the Baltimore public school system is so under-funded that it must borrow equipment from a commercial vendor.

Another message is that there are schools in other places that reflect more affluent communities -- images foreign to the experiences of our students. These impressions are far more hurtful than candy commercials because they tend to have a dispiriting impact that is not articulated.

Ms. Mintz offered a critique on the quality of the programs presented to students, finding the presentations uninteresting.

This is a plausible complaint, given the local genre. Baltimoreans know that news that is not sensational, filled with violence and despair, is the stuff of low ratings. Who needs soft news? Students?

I will concede another point to Ms. Mintz on the matter of the value of hardware in the classroom.

Hardware, be it the computer or the television, has no innate value as a tool for teaching; it requires creative, pedagogical application. And schools with their hardware are, indeed, challenged to make productive applications.

I note with great interest how the various school/community advocate groups have positioned themselves around the matter Channel One.

Without listing organizations by name, there appears to be a pattern associated with positioning or non-positioning relative to Channel One.

Those groups which work most closely with children in the schools and in other venues, particularly the low-profiled types, have not been heard on the matter, while the high profile, well-funded, well-networked politicized groups have clearly aligned themselves in opposition to Channel One. These groups seem to be those most removed from intimate contact with inner-city, grass-roots people.

In my view, authentic advocates should be more occupied with the business of making conditions better for our children than with spinning issues to convict school administrators of analphabetism. Real partisans for school improvement are busy galvanizing political support for parity in school funding, indeed, compensatory support.

I am not disposed to believing that there is any degree of connivance in the annual round of assaults on the credibility of the central bureaucracy of the school system. For surely there are no winners in such a design.

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