It's 9 a.m. in Bob Rasmussen's World History class at Cottonwood High. Thirty-nine sophomores cluster around the television set, which is blaring reggae music.
"Hi, I'm Hicks Neal," the news announcer says, "and this is Channel One for Wednesday, Sept. 19."The opening activity in Rasmussen's lesson plan today calls for 10 minutes of teen-targeted news on the tube, all wrapped around two minutes of commercials.
Cottonwood High is among the 31 schools in 12 Utah school districts that subscribe to the new education-oriented network. The fast, flashy educational programming channel is pitched to the post-MTV generation - teenagers who already watch up to 23 hours of television per week yet remain largely ignorant of world affairs. In addition, Channel One's critics say the program's commercials are mixing education with exploitation.
Rasmussen's students watch Channel One every school day. "It has worked out extremely well, more so than the teachers thought it would. At first we had some misgivings as to what would happen, but now there are other teachers that want to have it in their areas as well."
Rasmussen, chairman of the social studies department at Cottonwood High School, said the commercials, which have sparked the most criticism, don't detract from the program's educational value.
On Wednesday, students watched stories about Atlanta's getting the Olympic bid, the mission of American troops in the Middle East, the popularity of reggae music and the dropout rate in inner-city schools. "The kids see exactly what's happening in the world," Rasmussen said. "It really helps them understand the issues."
Along with the news stories, Channel One programming included commercials for Burger King and Snickers candy bars. When the 60-second commercial came on, many students began shifting in their seats and talking to one another. During a Nike commercial, Bo Jackson, a Kansas City Royals outfielder, appears beating a drum. "Don't be dumb, stay in school," the athlete says.
"These kinds of ads are very positive, very upbeat. A lot of them are anti-drug," Rasmussen said.
Not all Utah educators and parents favor the program.
Some critics say students shouldn't be a captive audience for business promotion while in an educational environment. According to a Granite School District administrator, the controversy over Channel One is likely the beginning of an important ongoing issue in the public school system.
Vern Call, Ogden School District Director of Education, said three high schools and four middle schools are testing the program this year. "We're very impressed with the quality and content of the broadcast," Call said. "We think it fills a need to help students become aware of current events and geography. It also serves as a springboard for discussion in the classroom."
In recent years the educational process has become a melting pot of new methods and curriculum, and many education officials say schools shouldn't turn their backs on technology as an educational tool.
"I think with all that we're seeing in today's world, and all the technology that's available, Channel One could be the next step in education," said Woody Clayton, director of secondary education for Granite district. The media are a powerful tool, one that could help merge business enterprise and public education, Clayton said.
Collin Carlson, 17, a junior at Cottonwood High School, said when he first heard of the proposal he thought it was another intrusion by advertisers.
"Some smart dude wants to make megabucks - as if we are not already bombarded by this trash constantly (the commercials) - but then I saw the program and found it appealing.
"Is it any worse to read newspapers during classroom school proj-ects?" Carlson asked.
Another student, Roberta Ostler, 15, agreed. "I'm not against the commercials. Why should I be? I mean, I just saw a commercial for Burger King which shows the dangers of dropping out of school. How bad can this be?"
Cottonwood history teacher Bill Durler is impressed by the equipment supplied along with Channel One programming. "They've given us a satellite dish, two VCRs and more than two dozen 19-inch Magnavoxes. Financially strapped school districts can't reject such a great offer."
David Jarrard, a spokesman for Whittle Communications, said more than 4,600 schools across the United States, representing an audience of more than 3 million students, have subscribed to Channel One. He predicted the network will have between 7,000 and 8,000 schools subscribed by the end of this school year. "The response from Utah has been very good," Jarrard said.
Channel One was launched in March 1989, after testing its programming in six schools throughout the country. The effort required an initial investment from Whittle of more than $150 million, funded by two minutes of commercials shown during each daily edition.
Why: Programs boost knowledge - and free equipment doesn't hurt.
Supporters say Channel One could make an important contribution to the way adolescents perceive the world and what role people like themselves can play in society.
Channel One, they say, will help teenagers increase their knowledge of geography, history, world events and social issues.
In the Granite School District, school administrators were asked to evaluate Channel One's effectiveness as a learning tool. The poll showed that nearly all wanted the program.
"Students aren't as captive as people think," said Woody Clayton, the districts director of secondary education. "Advertisers can't brainwash kids. Advertisers need to be more skillful than they are to make the student some sort of receptor for their messages."
The program has been endorsed by former U.S. Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, chairman of the network's advisory council. "It's time for educators to modernize education," Bell said. Contracts signed between school districts and the network contain a clause that will dissolve any liability for breach of contract should the districts decide to discontinue the program.
In contrast to other school news programs that are being offered to educators, the network provides schools with 19-inch color televisions for every 23 students in all participating classrooms, two videocassette recorders and a satellite dish.
School officials also could use the equipment for in-school announcements, to display lists of such things as school activites, homework assignments or sample test questions.
Additionally, advertising will be controlled by stringent standards and practice guidelines developed in conjunction with, and approved by, educators. Commercials will be reviewed by a panel of educators, and the network will take direction from a 21-member advisory board of education, business and government leaders.
School principals can view each program before it airs and can preempt it if they deem it inappropriate.
The channel also supplies teachers with a monthly programming and discussion guide to assist them in using the weekly five-part "world class" series. The guide previews each week's series and features activity and discussion suggestions, a brief listing of resources and a short glossary of terms.
Why not: Ads play big role in opposition, and is program time well-spent?
Critics give a variety of reasons why they believe schools don't need Channel One. Among them:
- The commercials are a bad influence on students. Opponents say commercials are just the beginning of an increasing interest advertisers have in schoolchildren, who are susceptible and impressionable because of their young age.
David Jarrard, a spokesman for Whittle Communications, said the channel specifically excludes advertising for alcoholic beverages, tobacco, feminine hygiene products and contraceptives.
A Twin Falls parents group has organized to fight Whittle's pitch to the local school district.
"We want our children to be educated, not advertised to," said Kara Kral of Parents Against Selling our Schoolchildren to Corporations. "Our children as a demographic group would be turned over to Whittle Communications."
"There's a major concern we all have as to whether it's appropriate to have advertising in public schools,"said Bryant Farnsworth, assistant superintendent for the Granite School District. "A number of groups are in great opposition with this issue. One major reason is advertising in schools breaks an unspoken tradition. People just don't think it ever should play a role in the educational process."
- The programs take time away from teachers. Jordan School District Spokeswoman Patty Dahl said the Board of Education decided against subscribing to the program after realizing "it would take up a lot of time and curriculum from teachers."
Kay Laursen, superintendent of the Provo School District and a former Timpview High principal, said Timpview parents rejected the program.
He said parents were concerned with the advertising, but also with how the program would fit into the school's schedule. He said parents felt the program disrupted the educational program and would be an intrusion on what already was going on at the school. He said parents also felt the program controlled the educational objectives taught in the school.
Opponents also say Channel One caters to a new generation, primarily comprising teenagers who like lighter fare and what has become know as "infotainment" - a cross between information and entertainment popularized by tabloid TV shows such as "Geraldo" and "A Current Affair."
Districts using Channel One
- Carbon - Granite
- Millard - Nebo
- North Sanpete - Ogden
- Sevier - Tooele
- Washington - Uintah
- Alpine - Provo
Channel One facts
- Last year, programming during the first weeks of Channel One included a five-part series on the fall of the Berlin Wall and what the changes mean to the teenagers of Eastern Europe, as well as the changes in South Africa and the effects on drug abuse.
- A Gallup study found that on any given school day virtually none of the nation's junior and senior high school students watch a news program, despite the cable news programming now available. At most, only 28 percent of the 1,500 students interviewed said they had watched a televised news broadcast at school the day the survey was conducted.
- Another Gallup poll found that a majority of teachers surveyed - 85 percent - say none of the classrooms in which they teach are equipped with permanently installed televisions or monitors.- Channel One, a daily 12-minute news and information program for teenagers, delivered by Cynthia Samuels, a former planning and political producer. The news crew holds a total of 13 Emmys.
- The Classroom Channel, an instructional-support channel designed and operated by the Pacific Mountain Network, which is an association owned and operated by 43 public television stations. The channel will provide several hundred hours of non-commercial educational programming for schools.
- The Educator's Channel, dedicated to professional development and other programming designed by and for educators and support groups to help them stay abreast of issues and trends affecting education. The channel also will provide programs on teaching techniques, classroom strategies and updates on current trends and research.- The Philips Consumer Electronic Corporation, a division of North American Philips, won a $150 million contract from Whittle to build and install the 320,000 televisions and other hardware necessary for the network.
- A $900,000 research grant has been awarded by Whittle Communications to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and Interwest Applied Research to study the network's contribution to education over the next three years.
Jerome Johnston and Evelyn Brzezinski will lead the research. They will study how teachers and administrators respond to the show, whether it is an add-on to the school day or becomes part of the class discussion, or whether the program helps supplement the social studies curriculum.
Plans call for studies to take place in up to 16 cities around the country selected to represent a range of community types. In each site investigators will have two high schools, one an experimental and one a control school. There will be more than 3,000 students in the study who will be tested on their recollection and understanding of news events.