"the spiraling potential
without and within"




Television has been a commanding force in our society for three decades now, and there are many of us who feel a special form of war is being waged between the rest of the world and that ubiquitous TV image. Nowhere is the metaphor of a battle zone more appropriate than in the classrooms of America, where a daily struggle is under way between teachers and television for the attention—indeed, the minds—of our young people.

Certainly, our fascination over television’s power and influence has not diminished with the years; if anything, the desire to understand more about the medium’s role in our lives has grown steadily as time has progressed. Research scientists, sociologists, and clinical psychologists have spent countless laboratory hours investigating the impact of television; today, increasingly, educa­tors in the classrooms of America are taking an active part in analyzing and discussing the medium’s influence on the thinking of children—the heart of the combat zone.

Those of us who work closely with young people in the classroom find it difficult to ignore the tremendous role that TV plays in the lives of our students, molding much of their thinking and overall behavior. We are confronted with a new form of warfare, a different sort of teaching battle than ever found by the teaching profession. On one side, we see the countless hours young people spend in front of their TV sets; on the other, we lament the diminished impact (or so it seems) of the many hours that children spend in the classroom. There are times today when thoughtful teachers honestly wonder who is going to be the victor: them or TV. Indeed, some teachers would say that TV has already won the war and that attempts at either counterattack or accommodation would be futile, or just plain irrelevant.

It has become quite evident in recent years that two types of learning experiences are being conducted simultaneously: one in the traditional classroom and another at home in front of the TV. In school, our students are required to assimilate a formal curriculum of reading, writing, literature, science, social studies, and other subjects; but the TV set presents another vast curriculum: advertisements, programs, personalities, and knowledge which our young people seem to acquire effortlessly while watching their sets. The challenge of the struggle is clear: if teachers are to remain active forces in the education of the young, they must understand more about their remarkable teaching rival and somehow try to come to terms with it. It is with this goal in mind that Classroom Combat has been written.

The objective throughout this book is to provide a broad overview of television and how it affects the teacher/TV conflict for the allegiance of our youth: its historical background and present political status; the curriculum TV has taught children over the past three decades; how TV teaches; and what the implications of this are for education today and in the future. Every attempt has been made to give a representative sampling and cross-section of information to provide the reader with a variety of expert opinion regarding the subject of commercial television and its present, predominantly adversarial role in our young people’s educational careers.

Chapter One, “A Teacher Looks at Television,” presents the current position of the medium in contemporary society and defines in part the nature of the battleground we now face. How much TV do we consume? What are our attitudes toward its use? What may we expect of television in the future? Placed against this information is the backdrop of education and general learning, and how they apply to both classroom behavior and learning from TV. This, ultimately, is where the real warfare lies, because it has to do with how we learn and think; what we see and hear; and how we process material. It is in light of this information on educational theory that the rest of Classroom Combat should be viewed.

Chapters Two and Three offer in-depth investigations on violence and advertising, respectively, as these topics represent the main focus of interest, both past and present, in the debate on children and television. Indeed, the controversy over violence on TV has produced heated discussion since the medium’s inception and still holds a strong position in the television and teaching theater of war. Similarly, advertising is also becoming a closely scrutinized issue and represents, as far as the industry is concerned, the arena where the real fight—for dollars and cents—is conducted. Some of the topics covered in these two chapters include historical information on violence and advertising; current studies analyzing a variety of their effects; and the controversy surrounding possible policy changes and industry regulation.

Aside from the pressures and struggles taking place in violence and advertising, there remain myriad other effects. Chapter Four is an attempt to present those areas of television’s influence on young people outside the domains of violence and advertising. So much time and effort have gone into the investigation of the first two topics that often a wide range of behavioral influences from television exposure is overlooked. Fortunately, however, this imbalance is now being rectified, and we are learning more and more how the medium affects numerous aspects of our lives. A collection of surveys and data is provided here that probe, in part, television’s influence on children’s play; their formal education; and its effects on their sleeping and eating patterns, as well as other health issues.

Chapter Five, “A Look at the Television Industry,” represents a shift in tone from the previous four chapters, but is by no means a retreat from the television and teaching battleground. If anything, it is an attempt to place the research regarding TV and children against the reality of television as a business and economic force in our society. Those of us in education may discuss various aspects of the classroom versus TV combat metaphor, but too often, debate rests so heavily on the children themselves and what is happening (or being done) to them that the medium and how it works are passed over as unimportant. This should not be the case. On the contrary: it is vital for those of us in education, as well as other related fields, to have some understanding of how the industry functions; the strategies and motivations behind its maneuvering; and the role it plays as a business in our general economic community. It is extremely important that we have some insight into these areas where television fights its own internal battle of wits, attitudes, and dollar signs. With this in mind, Chapter Five offers a brief look at the television industry in order to place the medium and its impact on young people in cultural and historical perspective. Only through such understanding can meaningful dialogue be estab­lished, which hopefully will bring about constructive change.

Chapter Six returns to the theme of teaching and television and the role both will play in tomorrow’s world. If, until this point, we have dealt with television primarily in its adversarial role vis-a-vis education, we must now make some attempt to negotiate some form of constructive compromise or accommo­dation between home, TV, school, and children. Teachers cannot retreat from the combat with television, but certainly we should make every attempt to emphasize and manipulate the medium’s positive attributes, while educating ourselves and our students about the potentially negative aspects of thoughtless television consumption. Chapter Six, therefore, offers some practical suggestions for using television in the classroom, as well as what young people and parents may do at home. Certain thoughts and ideas are also given for future exploration with respect to teacher education and related fields of research in order to help us better understand what is taking place in our high-technology world. A whole new phase of learning and information dissemination is just beginning to open up, and a tremendous amount of work is needed regarding the position of teachers vis-a-vis television, the technology of learning, and how we are to approach the process of education, entertainment, and media literacy in the future.

Though Classroom Combat holds particular interest for teach­ers, administrators, counselors, and other professionals involved with learning and instruction, every attempt has been made to present the information collected here in an accessible, under­standable manner. It is my sincere belief that the efforts of research should extend to a wide audience, not just an esoteric few. In this light, concerned parents, businessmen, policy-makers, and other members of the public may find this book interesting, helpful, and informative.

Finally, my personal thanks to the many people who contribut­ed their time and knowledge to the making of this book.


Maurine Doerken
October, 1982

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