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Television isn't just for couch potatoes anymore. Now, through a program called Channel One, televisions and video cassette recorders have entered elementary school classrooms. But before you decide to forego your college education to return to grade school for non-stop cartoons, be forewarned: Channel One is not fun and games. The program, developed in March by Knoxville, Tennessee-based Whittle Communications, is a twelve-minute current-events news program. On the surface, it seems harmless enough -- providing daily, up-to-date information to American school kids, a group that has been chastised of late for not paying attention to world events. But along with the news comes commercials, and parent and teacher groups across the nation have prevented their school systems from using the free machines for fear the advertisements are an unfair influence on a captive audience of malleable minds. · Channel One's news program is beamed by satellite daily to middle and high school students in schools who wish to participate in the program. According to Whittle Communications spokesperson Marilyn Harrison, Channel One is like a network news broadcast on a tenth-grade level. Harrison said that Whittle developed Channel One because company officials felt that "students should be more educated and knowledgeable of current events and issues because the future depends on the knowledge of these issues." Whittle provides the technology for free in order to make these programs accessible to the schools: a satellite dish, two VCRs and wiring for the whole school are provided as well as one television monitor for every 23 students. This technology, which is often too expensive for inner city school systems, also allows schools to broadcast school announcements, assemblies, and school-run TV shows. And after 18 months of heated debate over Channel One, the Philadelphia School District just passed a resolution to implement the program within certain schools that want to participate. Eligible schools are institutions with 150 or more students in grades six and above. The school district decided to make Channel One an option because declining revenues in the district have prevented schools from buying cutting-edge technologies to enhance students' education, according to Philadelphia School District spokesperson William Thompson. The 6000 participating schools in 46 states are required to broadcast 90% of the news shows aired. Each day teachers review the program to see if they feel it is appropriate for the students and if it isn't, they won't show Channel One that day. Teachers at several local schools with Channel One said last week the programs provide information about current events, careers, and social studies skills. The teachers added that students can also improve their writing and critical thinking abilities. According to Murray Rothman, who teaches television production at Pennsauken, Channel One gives students a better awareness of geography and current events while it piques their interest. "It is similar to an MTV-type news show for kids because of its graphics," Rothman said. But even with such benefits, Channel One has come under fire for two minutes of commercials aired in each edition of the program. The commercials, lasting from thirty seconds to two minutes, feature either a regular advertisement of a product, such as a bag of M & M's, or a public service announcement, like Burger King's "Stay in School" message. These commercials are subjected to strict guidelines devised by a panel of active educators, Whittle spokesperson Harrsion said. According to Graduate School of Education Dean Marvin Lazerson, schools would be wise to participate in Channel One, even if only to acquire the accompanying equipment. Once schools have the equipment, they can then use it for other educational purposes, such as watching educational movies. Many who oppose Channel One because of its commercials believe that schools are not the places for commercial messages, and that the students would be influenced too much by the commercials and would, therefore, not take the show seriously. Trenton Public School Video Specialist Dave Winogron, who supports the Channel One program, described the opponents' argument as the "captive audience" effect. Furthermore, opponents believe that the time spent watching Channel One could be used for instruction and education of traditional subjects, Winogron said. According to Philadelphia school spokesperson Thompson, schools are already filled with commercial messages and corporate identities such as the publisher's name on a textbook or the manufacturer's name on a bottle of glue. "Channel One is like regular TV in the sense that students watch it like regular TV," Thompson said. "When the program is on they watch, and when the commercials are on, they talk." According to Trenton's Winogron, students are not negatively influenced by commercials, but they are positively influenced by the news portion. As in a home situation, Winogron added, students discuss the news during the commercials and are not affected by the commercials aired on the program. According to Sister Patricia Fadden, the Catholic Education Office's director of curriculum and instruction of secondary schools, many who originally believed that Channel One was a "waste of time" and an intrusion into teaching changed their minds after trying it for six months. Winogron also said that people at Trenton previously opposed are now "excited" by Channel One because they believe that the program is not taking away from instructional time and that the news stories are of high quality. While University City High School does not have the program yet, the school's principal, Davis Martin, said they will be eligible for it and plan to take advantage of it. "Sometimes you've got to give to gain a whole lot," Martin said. "The knowledge the students will receive will be so much more worthwhile than those two minutes of advertising." The Archdiocese Schools of Philadelphia faced another opposing force to Channel One -- an objection to the content or the slant of the news stories. For example, if the program dealt with AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases by promoting safe sex through contraception, the lesson the program was passing on would not be in accordance with church doctrine, according to Fadden. As a result, Channel One reached an agreement with the 16 participating Archdiocese schools, allowing them to exempt programs that they do not show for such reasons in their required 90 percent rate. Whittle spokesperson Harrison also said that Whittle chose television as its medium because "it is an age of technology and some schools are starving poor of this technology. Therefore, Channel One gets the equipment into the schools at no cost to them while benefitting with education and other opportunities." Graduate School of Education Dean Lazerson said that the effects of Channel One depend on how it is presented in the classroom. "If Channel One is only seen for 15 minutes of the day without any discussion, then the program isn't working to its potential and not being beneficial to the students," Lazerson said.

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