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Industrial-Strength Television : C-SPAN’s innovative school bus -- MTV it is not

There’s a special yellow school bus tooling around California this month. This is no ordinary vehicle packed with children. The C-SPAN School Bus is a television studio on wheels out on a novel cross-county journey. The C-SPAN cable television network is visiting high schools and communities to mix old-fashioned lessons in government with newfangled TV technology. Its mission is to introduce students and communities to the processes of democracy.

MTV it is not. Indeed, C-SPAN, funded entirely by cable television companies, is the very antithesis of the hip, for-profit cable music station. C-SPAN is a no-nonsense, public-service network best known for its drone of live, unfiltered coverage of congressional hearings, debates and proceedings. But its officials hope to use the medium of television and its strong pull on young Americans--something entirely obvious to educators and marketers alike--for high civic purposes.

The C-SPAN School Bus is literally a vehicle to educate--to put students, teachers and communities in touch with the network’s resources, programming and personnel. It set off Nov. 1 from the District of Columbia, heading west via Denver. C-SPAN kicked off its California tour Thanksgiving week.

The bus has already stopped in South-Central Los Angeles and is touring Orange County, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, San Diego, Santa Barbara and the Bay Area, including Stockton, San Francisco, Marin County, San Rafael, Pleasanton and San Jose.

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The bus will help C-SPAN expand its TV town hall for students. On Monday, Gardena High School will be the site of a “National Student Town Meeting” where students, public officials and policy-makers will discuss immigration.

C-SPAN’s yellow school bus may seem hokey, a throwback to Norman Rockwell in an age of Beavis and Butt-head. But the traveling studio helps to demystify TV by allowing visitors to see firsthand what goes on before and behind the camera at C-SPAN. That is educational in and of itself--a lesson that will help viewers assess TV programming with a more critical eye. The yellow-bus adventure is about government and so much more.


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