School Board in Your Living Room

July 12, 1993

Not content with mandating what children learn in the classroom, the State Board of Education now seeks to send mandates to parents, too. It wants to require -- in the name of better education for children, we suppose -- that all television sets sold in Maryland be equipped with blocking devices so parents can set limits on the amount of time their children watch TV.

Why do school board President Robert C. Embry Jr. and Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick wish to take on the role of Big Brother? Why do they desire to march into the living rooms and bedrooms of Marylanders and order blocking devices onto every television set?

Clearly, the two leaders and the entire State Board of Education view with alarm the amount of time each child spends in front of a TV set. Dr. Grasmick estimates it averages out to 28 hours each week. Cut down on that viewing time, the theory goes, and children will turn their attention to hitting the books instead of MTV.

The job of Dr. Grasmick, Mr. Embry and the rest of the state education board is to set basic policy and guidelines for instruction. If school officials want kids to study more, they should assign more homework and give more rigorous tests. Recommending equipment add-ons for all television sets is far beyond the scope of their legitimate duties.

Given the problems facing public education, we are surprised Mr. Embry, Dr. Grasmick & Co. feel a need to broaden their mission. It is preposterous that they believe government hTC administrators should play a role as TV-time arbiters. Moreover, the solution they are proposing is unworkable: Limiting the hours of TV viewing does nothing to stop kids from watching MTV or violent movies rather than the Discovery Channel. Adding a blocking device to each set simply increases the price for consumers without any demonstrable social benefit.

Yes, kids are watching far more television than is good for them. But given the high-tech literacy of today's youngsters, it wouldn't take long for them to find a way around a TV blocking device. Home computers, for instance, are fast overtaking TVs as a youngster's favorite electronic toy. Will the Embry-Grasmick plan be extended next to requiring blocking devices on all computers sold in Maryland, too?

It is up to parents to lay down the law to kids about too much TV viewing and poor choices of programming. There's no way state bureaucrats and boards can mandate this change in societal patterns. Nor should they.

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