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TV Time In Classrooms

Here's one that might just qualify for the "Only in America" textbook. A study released last week took on the practice of watching TV in school. Conclusion: It's a costly and time-consuming venture.

For those not in the know, school hardly qualifies as a TV-free zone. In fact, about 8 million middle and high school students tune in daily to a 12-minute news program produced by Channel One. They watch 10 minutes of news and two minutes of ads.

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Researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee say that the program costs $1.8 billion a year in classroom time. Using data from the National Center for Education Studies, they calculated the cost per minute of a student's education in each state. Twelve minutes a day - roughly six days of class a year - add up to an average of $229 per pupil nationally. Multiply by 7.8 million viewers, and presto: a wad of your tax dollars, not very hard at work.

Channel One, which supplies audiovisual equipment to schools in exchange for air time, says the popular program is educational and has received many awards.

It's true that its current events can be a springboard to an interesting talk with friends or at the dinner table. But is this the best way to engage students in the world around them? It's reasonable to expect that after kids pour through the doors, they'll engage actively in learning. Instead, before the Pledge of Allegiance, announcements, or even a word with the teacher, many schools ask students to tune in mutely to yet another video in their image-saturated lives.

Last Friday, Channel One viewers watched Vice President Al Gore visit a high school for the antismoking "Kick Butts Day." They learned why Frenchman Maurice Papon was convicted of Nazi war crimes. They also heard corporate America's pitches on clear skin, caffeine-heavy soda, clear skin again, and slaking athletic thirst.

Many kids like the news pointers they pick up and the teen focus. But can this be achieved using skills - like reading - that reinforce academics? And without frequent sales pitches?

TV use can go too far. Witness the Connecticut student who says he will sue his town after being injured in a fight at school among students watching Jerry Springer's talk show. Even if TV is well done, do kids need more evidence of commercialism's grip? Many parents don't think so. And two students recently suspended in Georgia for wearing Pepsi shirts at a Coca-Cola school event may think twice the next time teachers tell them, "Think for yourselves."

* Write to: Learning Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA, 02115 or e-mail

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