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SAN DIEGO COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : A One-Year Trial Worth Trying

A proposal by two San Diego secondary schools for a one-year pilot of the controversial commercial news program Channel One poses a conflict between two worthy goals: protecting classrooms from the encroachment of commercialism versus decentralized decision making.

Channel One is a daily 12-minute TV news show with two minutes of advertising, which is distributed free to schools by Whittle Communications, along with television sets, VCRs and a satellite dish. The downside is that, in return, the schools must show the program 90% of the time, making students captive audiences for candy, soft drink, movie and clothing ads targeted specifically at their age group. The schools are also held hostage. They lose the TVs and VCRs, and the considerable contribution of these devices to other educational efforts, if they turn off the set too often or if they quit the program.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Oct. 06, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 6, 1991 San Diego County Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Channel One--A Sept. 28 editorial incorrectly identified one of the two San Diego schools that wants to experiment with the controversial TV news show Channel One. The two schools are Mira Mesa High School and Memorial Junior High School in Barrio Logan.

At a time when society is trying to cut back on the estimated 200,000 TV commercials that children see in their first 18 years, this adds to kids’ exposure. It also accelerates the intrusion of commercialization into schools, where commercial sponsorship of sports and other activities is already heavy. Bill Honig, the state school superintendent, has banned the program, and it is opposed by San Diego Supt. Tom Payzant, the San Diego school board and the California School Boards Assn.

Whittle’s educational program--unlike others that provide children’s news without ads and without free equipment--may not be the ideal approach. Schools would be better off if they owned the equipment and were free to choose programs.

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But these are not ideal times. The economic reality is that most schools don’t have the resources to buy as many TVs, VCRs and educational videotapes as they wish.

What’s more, if the benefits of decentralization are to be realized, some risks must be taken. Principals, such as Jim Vlassis at Mira Mesa High School and Tony Alfaro at Barrio Logan Junior High in San Diego, need the freedom to try reasonable new programs to improve education. This seems a reasonable gamble.

Whittle is allowing a one-year contract, as opposed to the usual three years. It has tentatively offered to pay any legal costs and damages if Honig sues the district. The news show might even raise students’ current-events IQ, and the schools would have access to dozens of video educational programs each month without commercials.

Payzant and others have encouraged schools to take more initiative. Here is the chance to put that to the test. The San Diego school board should support this experiment.

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