TV REVIEW : 'Year 2000' Tackles the Education Mess

If there's one good thing to be said about KCET's public-affairs series "By the Year 2000," it is that the little half-hour show doesn't shy away from big topics.

If there is one bad thing to be said about "2000," it is that the show--either limited by imagination or budget--often gives short shrift to these subjects.

Tonight's offering, "The Lessons Planned" (airing at 9 on Channel 28), is a case in point. The first of a four-part series examining the Los Angeles Unified School District, it delves into the effectiveness of the curriculum being taught in this massive school system. It barely scratches the surface.

Set up with a quick horror run-down of the system's problems--dropout rate, functional illiteracy, etc.--"Lessons" uses as a framework California's Education Reform Act of 1987, an attempt by the state to end perceived rote learning by mandating the teaching of "creative thinking."

It should be so easy.

As "Lessons" quickly shows, there are no simple answers. It's one thing to require the teaching of "creative thinking," quite another to implement a new program.

Segments in two elementary school classrooms and interviews with an education professional, a teachers' union president and a district representative demonstrate the problems: No money, no time, no materials and on and on.

The second half of the show--a round-table discussion with a teacher, a district spokeswoman and an educational consultant--illustrates perhaps the biggest difficulty facing the district: 30 seconds into it, moderator Joseph Benti finds himself riding herd over a knockdown, no-holds-barred battle. Fingers are pointed, voices are raised in anger. Ideas are tossed out too, but only to blame someone else for the crushing problems facing the system.

There's much heat in "Lessons," but not much light. Let's hope the series in toto adds up to one good program. Upcoming episodes include a look at students' attitudes, the world of teachers and an hourlong finale that promises to explore solutions.

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