Educational Television in the Classroom Research Paper Starter

Educational Television in the Classroom

This article discusses educational television as it is used in K-12 public classrooms in the United States. Educational television has roots reaching back as far as television itself. Owing to societal pressures, educational television was renamed and reinvented in the 1960s when a report from the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television led to the passage of the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act. Educational television took its place on the television dial as PBS; several generations of children have since watched commercial-free programs. Joining forces with burgeoning cable television in the 1980s, public television was brought into public school classrooms, through Cable in the Classroom, in the form of commercial-free programming about such topics as science, history and literature. As the 21st century began, educational television in the classroom struggled to find a role alongside more interactive educational resources such as the worldwide web.

Keywords 1967 Public Broadcasting Act; Cable in the Classroom; Carnegie Commission on Educational Television; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Educational Television; Federal Communications Commission; Public Television; Worldwide Web

Extended Learning: Educational Television in the Classroom


Educational television, unlike its commercial counterparts on the broadcast spectrum, has as its primary purpose the spread of ideas and information designed to inform and enlighten its audience, young or old. According to Zechowski, "Educational Television (ETV) in the United States refers primarily to programs which emphasize formal, classroom instruction and enrichment programming" (Zechowski, n.d., para. 1).

Evolution of Educational Television

Educational television has its roots in educational films made almost from the start of the motion picture industry at the turn of the 20th century. As early as 1910, the Catalog of Educational Motion Pictures, a directory of over 1,000 educational films for rent by public schools, was published (Miller & Cruce, 2005a). In 1911, Thomas Edison produced a series of educational films about the American Revolution. In 1917, the Chicago Public Schools established the first educational film library in a city school system. By 1922, there were ten nationally, including Atlanta's (Miller & Cruce, 2005). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, educators worked to develop a methodology for using films and the newly invented radio in public school instruction.

By the 1930s, television was the wave of the future, and discussion soon turned to how the television broadcast spectrum would be allocated. As what would become the Communications Act of 1934 was being debated, advocates for educational television pressed to carve out a sizable niche of the television broadcast spectrum because they understood the power of television to be a teaching tool. There was an abortive attempt through the Hatfield-Wagner amendment to set aside a quarter of the television spectrum from education television, but the attempt failed. Supporters of educational television were forced to console themselves with the promise that the Federal Communications Commission gave them a promise to continue to investigate the feasibility of educational television (Zechowski, n.d.).

What happened instead was the buying up of television licenses by commercial interests at such a rate that in 1948, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put a freeze on the issuing of new licenses. After lobbying from the FCC commissioner Freida Hennock, and despite the objective of commercial television owners, the FCC in 1953 set aside 242 educational channels, and station KUHT Houston became the first licensee. Unfortunately, without commercial funding, many educational television stations struggled to make ends meet, and the FCC permitted many of them to sell their slice of the television spectrum to commercial television owners.

Therefore, rather than establishing a bulwark against excessive commercialism on television, educational (public access) television struggled to gain a foothold on college and university campuses even while commercial television flourished. Business joined forces with Hollywood to create free, commercial programming that captured the imagination of Baby Boomers enjoying the post-war economic boom of the 1950s and 60s. Programs like I Love Lucy, You Bet Your Life and Gunsmoke captivated audiences and made commercial television networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC household names.

The Role of the Carnegie Corporation

Educational television in the United States wasn't dead yet, however:

In 1964, Ralph Lowell, a Boston philanthropist and founder of WGBH educational television and radio, began making a case for the formation of a commission to evaluate public broadcasting. The idea was floated to Carnegie Corporation, which led to the creation of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television two years later. Charged with studying the prospects for developing noncommercial television broadcasting "of diversity and excellence," the Commission was endorsed by President Lyndon Johnson. "From our beginnings as a nation we have recognized that our security depends upon the enlightenment of our people; that our freedom depends on the communication of many ideas through many channels," Johnson wrote. "I believe that educational television has an important future in the United States and throughout the world" (Carnegie Corporation, 2006, para. 1).

The work of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television resulted in the publication of a report in January 1967 entitled "Public Television: A Program for Action." The Commission recommended that Congress create a Corporation for Public Television (CPT) whose job it would be to "receive and disburse governmental and private funds in order to extend and improve Public Television programming" (Carnegie Commission, 1967, sect. 2). The CPT would not be a domineering force in educational television, but would act as a grantee and advocate for local public television stations as they sought to produce educational programming to serve both their local community as well as a national audience.

This was a seminal event in the public television life of the United States. Writing in the New York Times, James Reston exclaimed that the Carnegie Commission report was "one of those quiet events that, in the perspective of a generation or even more, may be recognized as one of the transforming occasions of American life" (cited in Carnegie Corporation, 2006, para. 4).

The Public Broadcasting Act

With this wind in their sails, Congress passed the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act, which created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and with it public television and radio. Signing the bill into law, President Lyndon Johnson said the intention of the Act was to give voice to educational radio and television by:

• Providing funds for broadcast facilities

• Launching a major study of television's use in the Nation's classrooms and their potential use throughout the world.

• Building the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which will "assist stations and producers who aim for the best in broadcasting good music, in broadcasting exciting plays, and in broadcasting reports on the whole fascinating range of human activity. It will try to prove that what educates can also be exciting" (Johnson, 1967, para. 12).

To this, Zechowski adds, "Public television promised to educate the nation through formal instruction and enrichment programming emphasizing culture, arts, science, and public affairs. In addition, it would provide programming for 'underserved' audiences (those ignored by commercial broadcasters) such as minorities and children" (Zechowski, n.d.).

Educational TV in the Schools

By the 1970s, the use of educational television in American classrooms had been firmly established. A survey conducted by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) during the 1976-1977 school year revealed that 42% of all teachers had used educational television at least once, and 33% had used educational television on a regular basis (Miller & Cruce, 2005b). A CPB study...

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