Networks Get a Lesson on the Education Crisis : Television: Teaching activists call for a media crusade against illiteracy. NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox to schedule eight hours of educational programming.

Producers of prime-time television series and representatives from nearly every segment of the Hollywood television establishment were implored Monday to use the power of their medium to help deal with the increasing crisis in American education.

The gathering at the Beverly Hills Hotel--characterized by Brandon Tartikoff, chairman of the NBC Entertainment Group, as the ultimate power breakfast--heard messages from the president of the national PTA; the founders of Education 1st, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the resources of the entertainment industry to address the problems in education, and an educational activist asking them to train the public airwaves on "the No. 1 crisis confronting America."

"Not just by writing clever one-liners," said Lynda Guber, co-founder of Education 1st, "but by bringing that commitment to work on your series or when creating new shows every day."

As a call to action, Tartikoff said that NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox have decided to dedicate a minimum of eight hours of programming during one week next April to educational themes. He also proposed some kind of media event in March, perhaps in Washington, to call attention to TV's education week and to the crisis in education in general.

For the most part, however, the producers and studio executives were besieged with harrowing statistics on the magnitude of the problem and were urged to wield their influence in an overtly positive manner.

"For 40 years national security has been our nation's priority and that has meant a strong military," said Carole Isenberg, co-founder of Education 1st. "But in the 1990s, the definition of national security will have to change . . . because our national security is being threatened by our failure to educate our children."

Ann Lynch, president of the national PTA, suggested that television does not even realize its own power. "You are the molders and builders of this nation," she said. "There are more televisions than bathtubs in this country. You are not entertainment, you are education."

Lynch criticized the medium for putting together "a mosaic for this country that is scary," saying that too often television gives out the wrong impression of teachers, schools and the PTA. She pleaded with the television establishment to work to change these impressions and to share their communication skills with educators and schools.

Bill Milliken, president of Cities in Schools, spoke of the crisis in terms of the disintegration of stable family life and community in many areas of the country. He asked television to use its skills to paint pictures and images of what a new kind of community--replete with single-parent households and multiracial and multicultural neighborhoods--is going to look like.

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