Education: The Viewdents

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In Baltimore one morning last week, a ten-year-old boy named Billy settled himself down before his family's TV set. After he stretched out on the floor, he dashed off a letter to the superintendent of schools. "Dear Doctor lemmel." he wrote, "I like to do my school work at home. Because we do not get as much work . . . Another reason is then I can get a drink of water or be excused when I want to." With that chore out of the way, young Billy started his school day. All he had to do was to turn the TV knob to channel 11.

Billy was not the only such Baltimore pupil. Just after New Year's, 300 school janitors, firemen and custodians had gone on strike, and 123 heatless schools had been forced to close down. For 80,000 of the city's 130,000 students, the strike might have meant a long extra holiday. But General Manager D. L. (Tony) Provost of station WBAL-TV got an idea.

With the help of the superintendent, he and his staff mapped out a complete set of morning programs to fill the place of school. The city's two other stations joined in. Within three days, the programs were ready to go on the air. WBAL-TV took care of the elementary grades, with classes in science, art and spelling (commented one little "viewdent": "Miss Wagner said to write 'Baltimore' three times ... I only wrote it twice"). WAAM-TV taught the junior and senior high-school courses in French, aviation, and the "Cultures of the Past." In the afternoon, WMAR-TV added a course in history. By week's end, as the striking janitors at last began to go back to work, Baltimore felt it had proved one thing: wherever TV exists, neither storms nor strikes need ever again keep U.S. children out of school.

Actually, the Baltimore incident was merely one chapter in the story of education and TV. Though U.S. educators may never be ready to take over the 242 channels that the FCC allotted them last year, many have at least begun to take TV seriously. Today go colleges and universities, as well as 65 school systems, produce their own shows. Some recent examples:

¶The Johns Hopkins Science Review for the last four years has broadcast faculty lectures on everything from the atom to the psychology of fear. The University of California's 13-week course in child psychology was one of the first telecourses to be given for academic credit.

¶ The University of Michigan's courses in general education have covered such subjects as the study of the stars and the operation of the two-party system. In one semester, the university boasted a registration of 3,850 viewdents.

¶Western Reserve's elaborate TV curriculum has given full-fledged credit courses in psychology, comparative literature and economics.

¶Columbia University's "Seminar"—the most adult of all adult education programs —is actually a broadcast of a regular university class in American civilization.