AISD Notebook

See the eyebrows arch, the lips tighten, the fists clench at the mere mention of Channel One, a 12-minute news program that's beamed via satellite into over 12,000 U.S. middle and high schools every day -- including AISD schools. (Once a product of the always-controversial Whittle Communications, Channel One was purchased by K-III Communications in 1994.) From the moment of its inception in 1990, Channel One has ignited debate over the degree to which we're willing to let American big business colonize and subsidize our classrooms -- the service doesn't cost schools anything, so it's paid for with two minutes of advertising of youth-oriented products.

On the surface, it seems to be a pretty simple equation: Watch some TV, maybe learn a little something, see some commercials. In Austin, however, that means students watch up to six hours of television advertising every school year, right at their desks. Understandably, many American parents have objected to the use of Channel One because of the advertising (the program was banned in the State of New York, for example). But now, anti-Channel One parents and like-minded school administrators may have new ammunition against the electronic invader. According to a new study released yesterday by the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), Channel One's program content is also "of questionable educational value."

The report, authored by Vassar College sociology professor William Hoynes, is reportedly the first study to actually analyze what's in Channel One broadcasts. Among the findings: A great portion of the programming is devoted to promoting Channel One itself; black people interviewed for Channel One stories are usually either athletes or residents of correctional facilities; and social problems such as adolescent alcohol use, crime, pregnancy, and the like, were chalked up to "choices" that individuals make (as opposed to exploring the role of poverty in those problems).

FAIR's report was made possible in large part through the efforts of an AISD parent. Brad Rockwell, who is an attorney, was already concerned about the commercialization of schools. He was hired by TV-Free America, a Washington, D.C., public interest group, to investigate the use of Channel One in Texas. Rockwell says AISD officials stonewalled and resisted his requests for materials and information related to Channel One, and relented only when faced with legal action.

What's more, Channel One is only available via the equipment the company itself furnishes. No videotapes of the program are made, and therefore, this "instructional" material is unavailable for parental review -- which, as Rockwell points out, is in direct violation of Texas state law and State Board of Education rules. After Rockwell met with the parent-teacher association at his son's school, several weeks' worth of Channel One programming was recorded there in 1995 -- by placing a camera in front of a video screen! These tapes became the source material for FAIR's important and fascinating report.

Board news: Inclement weather on Monday, January 13, prompted the AISD Board of Trustees to move its regular meeting to Thursday, January 16. (As she has been in recent months, trustee Liz Hartman was absent from the meeting because of an illness in her family.) The board voted 7-1 to approve April 24, 1997, which is "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day," as a program day. AISD students who accompany their parents to work that day will be considered on a field trip and counted as present at school (for funding purposes). Trustee Melissa Knippa made a "symbolic" vote against the proposal -- because the activity could just as easily take place during the summer, and not intrude on the school year, she said.

Thought for the new year: This begins the fourth year of "AISD Notebook." Remember, good stories have great sources. Don't omit your name or phone number when submitting story ideas, or else it's almost impossible for me to follow up on your tips. Thanks.

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