Tag Archives: Education

Getting Back to School

It is always a trial to grab the attention of teenagers and to keep it once you have it. You would think that a guy who teaches television wouldn’t have much trouble. However, last November my lab was broken into and about $15,000 went out the window. It pretty much set us back 10 years. So now? Instead of working on newscasts we are podcasting. Podcasting is an audio program designed to share information, entertain and let people discuss whatever is on their minds. If podcasting sounds a lot like talk radio it is only because podcasting is exactly like talk radio.  But it’s fun and the students seem to enjoy it.

If you want, you can listen to one right here. If you would like to see the last newscast we did, it’s here.


We Have Taken A Turn For The Surreal

America is heading into an odd zone and I have no idea when it started. The issues we find important are insignificant and the significant issues are always the fault of someone else. Gas prices, poverty and looming war are significant. Do we talk about these and offer solutions? No. Instead, people are pointing fingers and blaming the President. While the GOP is looking to place blame-bombs around the country, they are touring America, pandering to the religious right and pretending that discrimination is the safest bet for America’s future. And, as a people, we are allowing it. Again, I have to state that this is, at best, a little odd and, at worst, marking the end of our democracy, our country and our future.

You Women Just Need To Hush

How did contraception become a hot issue? I know that the issue began when the White House announced that employers who offer insurance to their employees must give the option to include contraception. Even if the employer objects on moral grounds. Of course, the moral objection argument is aimed squarely at churches where contraception is considered to be against doctrine. It is hard for me to believe that some of the people who are screaming about the audacity of the pill haven’t used contraception of some sort at some point in their lives. Whether we are talking about the pill, condoms, a calendar or something altogether different, there are people out there who just don’t want to be parents. And that is their right.

However, the GOP, the party of small government, doesn’t want some of you to have birth control available to you, not just at your job as a church secretary, but at all. And somehow, this idea is gaining ground. According to an article written by Connie Cass and Jennifer Agiesta, GOP candidate Rick Santorum “says he wouldn’t try to take away the pill or condoms. But he believes states should be free to ban them if they want. He argues that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in 1965 that married Americans have a right to privacy that includes the use of contraceptives.” This is the same candidate who stated that John F. Kennedy’s stance on the separation of church and state made Santorum “want to throw up.” President Kennedy, in a speech he made in 1960 to Southern Baptist leaders, said, “So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.” Santorum is of a different belief. He obviously wants to be president and he obviously wants to push his religious agenda from the Oval Office and, in my opinion, that is the one place in America that doesn’t benefit from a religious agenda.

He Said What?!?

In his effort to connect with the blue collar, hard working NASCAR fans in America, Mitt Romney was at this year’s Daytona 500. He showed up just two days before the Michigan Primary and attended the driver’s meeting and toured the infield and spoke to people.  That’s fine. I got a chance to interview Maureen Reagan when she was campaigning for her father in Dover Delaware at the Budweiser 500 in 1983. A NASCAR race is a great place to connect with “the people.” But where Ms. Reagan was open, honest and direct about why she was there and what she hoped to get out of it, Mr. Romney came across as a bit disingenuous. When asked if he followed NASCAR closely Romney said, “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.” Of course he does. I don’t and out of the 150,000 fans in the grandstands, I doubt if many of them hang out with NASCAR team owners either. But this is a minor hiccup compared to Rick Santorum.

Mr. Santorum has a problem understanding that some people are not like him. His last great pronouncement against the president was to call him a snob. And how does Barack Obama wear his snobbery on his sleeve? He wants everyone to go to college or, at least, have a chance to go to college. For that, Rick Santorum says, “What a snob. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.” Rick Santorum wants to be the candidate for lowered expectations.

Obama’s actual statement on higher education was actually well tempered and in line with American values. “And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.  But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”  It makes me want to wave a flag. And I have two in my office right now. An American flag and a United States Marine Corps flag. Rick Santorum, however, sees this call to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps as more liberal garbage.

Rough Seas Ahead

I am not sure where America is heading. The GOP wants to come across as God-fearing, hard-working friends of the common man. But while they are shaking hands at the Daytona 500 they are looking to legislate morality and cut funding to the poor and elderly.  While they are claiming to be middle-class Americans, they are casually making $10,000 bets on TV and saying that $374,000 isn’t a lot of money. While they are proudly pounding the bible, they seem to forget what the good book says. They say that corporations are people, they say that birth control pills make women promiscuous, they say that college is for snobs. And all across the red states, voters believe that the GOP is the party for them. Sure they’re not wealthy and never will be. Sure they want their kids to be successful but now that makes them snobs?

I have no answers and I am not the least bit sure about how this election will play out. It worries me that voters will cast their votes for the GOP candidate solely for the reason that they hate him less than they hate Barack Obama, their records on the issues notwithstanding.

Why This Matters

The name of this blog is Teaching Television: Media, Education And Why It Has To Work Together.  If our young people are not aware of the issues and how they affect their lives, they can never grow up to be well rounded citizens capable of making a difference. Instead of creating a nation of self-aware future leaders we are in danger of creating a generation of self-absorbed people incapable of solving problems or thinking on their own. And that is frightening.


Is Journalism Dead?

When I was young, the TV news was very important. First, there was a half-hour of local news and then a half-hour of national news. The local news had all the news that happened in my viewing area and it left the national news for the networks. Local interest stories, local sports and the weather. I lived in Washington, DC so a lot of what passed for local news was also, to an extent, national news. But the bulk of the real news was handled by the networks and in my house, it was Walter Cronkite.

Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009) was there when America went to war in Europe. He was a part of the “Writing 69th“, a group of 8 journalists who were allowed to go on bombing missions over Germany. He landed in a glider to cover Operation Market Garden and he reported on the Ardennes Offensive more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. He was often called the Most Trusted Man in America and was a solid, solemn voice during troubled times including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I was a strong proponent of NASA and the American race to space. To this day, I can remember his barely contained glee as Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  He reported from Viet Nam and he was always there.

Even as a child, I knew that Walter Cronkite was a very special man. He was serious and he was, obviously, important. I vaguely remember my parents making time to watch the CBS Evening News and I remember that Mr. Cronkite held my attention, even at a very young age. And as I look back, I have to wonder what he would think now about the sorry state of journalism in this country.

“Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.”  ~Walter Cronkite

In Cronkite’s day, there were very few places to get your news. You could watch TV, listen to the radio or buy a newspaper. The TV news cycle was longer than it is today. There was a morning show and an early evening newscast. It gave the networks around eight hours to fill the upcoming news cast so stories were weighed against each other and only the stories that were deemed important enough to report made it to air. Of course that means that some of the “lesser” stories were passed by and left to the newspapers to report. It was a system that worked but that was not without some flaws. There was no way to report everything to everyone and make everybody happy. On the other hand, it also meant that network news time was not taken up with stories of drugged out celebrities who missed a court date.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Now our news cycles never end. MSNBC, CNN, Fox, CNBC, CSPAN have all filled a void that might not have needed filling. Now, instead of filtering the news based on national impact, anything goes. In order to fill a 24 hour newscast the networks have to add a lot of fluff, celebrity news, talking-head “experts”, analysts and opinion. The problem comes when opinion masquerades as news.

Editorials have always been a part of the news cycle. A certain amount of opinion is necessary to get the pulse of a nation. But the editorial has evolved from a single page in the Sunday paper to iconic commentators who have managed to eclipse the issues they speak on. Rush Limbaugh was one of the first superstar radio talk show hosts. His strong conservative opinions reach millions and he is seen, by many of his listeners, as the final word on all things political. But his opinions are not news, they are not mainstream and, some, are not even based on fact. Remember, he is the one who played the song, “Barack the Magic Negro” on his program.

Fox news is another outlet that masks opinion as news. Never in my lifetime has there been a news network that has worked so successfully to be the propaganda wing of a political party. They show unflinching support of the conservative way of life to the point of attacking the Muppets for their stand on corporate America. Fox Business Channel host, Eric Bolling, said on air, “It’s amazing how far the left will go just to manipulate your kids, to convince them, give the anti-corporate message. Hollywood, the left, the media, they hate the oil industry. They hate corporate America.” The attack on the Muppets may have made prime time but it made little sense. Claiming that Hollywood hates corporate America is a lot like saying General Electric hates corporate America. Only an editorialist with an agenda would conveniently forget that film studios are a part of corporate America. When a movie like Toy Story 3 makes over a $1,000,000,000 worldwide, it should be hard to claim Disney is anti-capitalism. But Bolling did just that and no one called him on it. In spite of the fact that The Muppets (2011) was a Disney release, Fox claimed that “Hollywood” was indoctrinating our children in their left-wing agenda. Disney owns 10 TV stations, a dozen or so networks if you count ESPN as one network instead of 13.  They own movie studios, restaurants, radio stations, merchandising companies and, if my memory serves, they have a couple of  popular theme parks. And yet, somehow, Disney is anti-capitalism. News and opinion collide in a cloud of false outrage.

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” ~Walter Cronkite

Newsman Alfred S. Ochs took over the New York Times in 1896. He was facing stiff competition from the sensationalist papers of the time but wanted to build a newspaper based on reporting “the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.” I have to think that there are still journalists who know that they are not the story, that what they are reporting matters and that their own agendas, thoughts, preconceived notions and opinions are meaningless when telling the facts. But in a world where opinion counts as news, where bloggers are seen as journalists and where journalists want to be stars, I have to worry. Being a journalist should be a sacred trust. It should be an honor to report the news “without fear or favor.” It should be but it isn’t. There are no more Walter Cronkites to look up to. When Jon Stewart can become the most trusted newsman in America for anchoring what he calls a fake news show, it just might be too late.


Looking Forward: Politically Speaking

I have just looked at Teaching Television for the first time in a long time. A long, long time. I was shocked to see that my last post here was in May of 2011. In it was a nasty little review of a mean-spirited TV show called “Repo Games.” My feelings for the new rash of “reality” shows still hasn’t changed but I have to admit that I am currently following two new shows of this genre. They are “Face Off” from Syfy and “Ink Master” from Spike. I guess they appeal to me on a creative level. Since Syfy and Spike aren’t paying me, I honestly don’t care if you check them out or not.

Not Sure of Anything

I really don’t have plan here. Consider it an exercise in extemporaneous writing. There is one thing I am sure of..I am not sure of anything anymore.

I used to think that out government worked for all of the people. Now? I am not so sure. I have spent the last eight months watching the Republican party trot out a list of potential presidents that make a Ringling Brothers clown car look dignified. The parade has passed several of them by but the few that are left are not really any better. Rick Santorum seems to hate everyone who isn’t Rick Santorum. His ideas appear to be based on his own elitist, racist, homophobic, misogynistic ideology. One of my favorite WTF quotes from Santorum comes from his book It Takes A Family: Conservatism and The Common Good (2005).

“The notion that college education is a cost-effective way to help poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas or GEDs move up the economic ladder is just wrong.”

I am not really sure where this stuff comes from. He has said many times that all of our rights come from God. For that matter, all of the Republicans claim to have a hotline to the Almighty. That should be very, very troubling to Christians in this country. It is my theory that if Jesus were to come and reclaim the planet, he wouldn’t be a Republican.

What Party Would Jesus Join?

I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s beliefs. I have my own and I very rarely share them. But I don’t care if you believe in a higher power or not. The stuff that Jesus said in the bible is not a bad way to live. Do you have to be a Christian to treat all people with dignity? To offer a hand to the poor? The sick? The imprisoned? I don’t think so. But the new batch of candidates seem to collectively believe that Jesus wants them to have lots and lots of money and He also wants them to keep as much of it as possible. Sure, He once said “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” but who cares? Right? Right? As long as the very rich remain very rich, the rest of the country should just shut up and keep on working. It seems to be the Republican way.

Treason As Policy

And speaking of the Republican way…I am of the firm belief that they are traitors to America. Harsh? Sure but I have my reasons. Number one is the Grover Norquist tax pledge. Here is a man, a private citizen, who has absolute control over the entire Republican party. 238 Representatives and 41 Senators have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes. By signing this pledge, an entire political party has turned its collective decision-making process over to a single individual. Every time the “Super Committee” met to deal with the economy, half of them were working for Grover Norquist. The only way to save the economy is to spend less money and earn more. Cut and tax. But the Republicans have promised a billionaire that they would never do that. In spite of their oath to the people of the United States of America, they choose to serve a man named Grover.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Breaking this oath should be treason. Read it. Is promising Grover to enter into negotiations with a close-minded agenda equal to serving with true faith and allegiance? Can anyone who signed Grover’s pledge honestly pretend to take their obligations of office “freely, without any mental reservation”? And how, exactly, can a republican get away with swearing “true faith and allegiance” to Grover Norquist over the needs and interests of the people they have sworn to serve? I cannot understand how this happened and I cannot understand how it happened so universally. It is chilling and our country is facing a crisis.

It’s The Democrats Too…

I’ve been picking on the Republicans a lot but mostly because they make it so easy. But the Democrats shoulder a certain amount of the blame. When the last few real journalists point out things like the fact that insider trading is illegal for all Americans except for members of congress, there are democrats on that list. In 2001, Martha Stewart, acting on an insider tip, sold off just over 39,000 shares of stock she was holding for a company called ImClone Systems. She avoided a $49,637 loss by selling her shares before the ImClone stock prices were set to drop. Because of this, Stewart was tried and convicted on nine counts of securities fraud and obstruction of justice. She ultimately spent 5 months in jail, two years of supervised probation and 5 months worth of electronic monitoring via and ankle bracelet.

Meanwhile, members of congress have been allowed to serve on committees that oversee such issues as the economy, debit card fees, and healthcare and then use that information to purchase stocks in the very same industries they are tasked with overseeing. In our world, that is called insider trading and it is a crime. In congress, it’s called a perk. That is why the average US Senator’s stock portfolio beats the market average by 12%. That number is higher than corporate insiders and way better than “average US households.”

Now Where?

Some thing has to change. “We the people…” no longer has any meaning to the members of the Senate or Congress. I am not sure how it can be fixed or if it can be fixed but one thing we need to do is stop vetting our candidates based on their views on abortion, their religious beliefs or how many bad things they say about the other candidate. Like it or hate it, abortion is the law of the land. George W. Bush was president for 8 years and never even pretended to tackle the issue. The next president won’t either. A candidate’s religious upbringing should have no bearing either. If the candidate is the right candidate, their faith is not our business. Period. We are divided in this nation and it is why we are falling.

When I started this, I honestly had no idea where it was going to end up. J.R.R. Tolkien once said of Lord of the Rings that it was a tale that “grew in the telling” because when he started it, he had no idea where it would end up. Sort of like this post. Except that The Lord of the Rings was a little better. OK…a lot better. But I still have no idea where to go from here. Throughout my four years writing Teaching Television, I have bounced from mission to mission, voice to voice and outlook to outlook. I started out as a cut-and-dry technical blog on bringing the media into the classroom. That didn’t last very long. I dabbled in current events and political commentary and even design. I have no idea what is going to happen next. But I am pretty sure it won’t be another 8 months before the next post.


And Now This Word From Ronald Reagan

I believe a case can be made that the decline in the quality of public school eduction began when Federal aid to education became Federal interference in education.

~Ronald Reagan


Fixing Education Part 3: Taking Back Kindergarten

Educators and legislators need to look back at their own education and try to remember what they did in Kindergarten. Once they do, they need to take a long hard look at what Kindergarten has become.

Kindergarten Is The New First Grade

When I was just starting out in school, Kindergarten was fun. As a child I looked forward to finger-painting, playing with blocks and learning all about numbers and the usefulness of the alphabet. I remember learning to print my name and I remember learning to count to 100. I still have crystal clear memories of the accomplishment of reaching 100 for the first time. That number was such a foreign concept to my 4 year-old mind (yes…4 years old) that I had honestly thought that it would take a week to get there.

So we spent the day coloring, tracing letters, learning numbers and understanding what they represented. The teacher read stories to us and I learned to fall in love with Dr. Seuss and, by extension, reading. She showed us how to draw and paint and I learned to love art. She showed us how to carefully craft our letters so that they could form our names and I learned to love writing. We also played with toys and each other and we took naps and ate graham crackers and milk. I checked with my mother. There was never a day when I refused to go to school. Kindergarten was fun. But it was so much more than that.

Learn By Playing?

It took me a long to time to appreciate the depth of the education I received during that first year of school. I thought we were messing with paint. Turns out we were learning about colors and aesthetics and even cleaning up after ourselves. While we thought we were playing house, we were actually learning how to interact with other human beings, all about gender differences and equalities, and about fair-play. While we were playing with blocks and toy cars and stuffed animals, we were also learning how to share, how to resolve our own problems and how to deal with conflict. Everything we did, learned and experienced had one simple outcome. We learned how to learn. The lessons were simple but lifelong. And they are sorely missing in today’s education.

Getting my son to go to school everyday was a chore. Every day was a battle. Every morning was filled with tears and pleading to stay home. It took me a while to figure out why my son was so against school. His school had taken the Kindergarten lessons and tossed them out and replaced them with a 1st grade curriculum. It might have been my fault he wasn’t totally prepared but an hour of homework a day in Kindergarten is just wrong.         ~Georgia Mother

If we refuse to acknowledge the importance of play-based learning, we may never reach all of our students. And instead of figuring out how to learn and to love learning, we set our kids up for failure at a very early age. Putting five year-old behinds into seats to teach them through traditional lectures flies in the face of everything we know about education. Children at that age just don’t work that way. Children learn by doing and through experience. David Elkind, author and psychologist wrote, “Learning teaches us what we know, play makes it possible for new things to be learned. There are many concepts and skills that can only be learned through play.” Social skills are first on the list.

So, instead of well-rounded eager students, many of us are getting frustrated, burned-out students who lack social skills, impulse control and simple conflict resolution skills. Instead of students who read for the sheer joy of it, who write because writing is fun and who can slog their way through Algebra and Trig simply because they can add, subtract, multiply and divide, we get students who can barely read, can’t form a sentence and can’t do simple two digit multiplication without a calculator. It is not the fault of the students. It is not the fault of the teachers. It is because of a system that has been redesigned over the past decade, not at the hands of educators but at the hands of politicians.

Fitting Into The Plan

In order to save our high schools we must start in Kindergarten. In spite of what politicians want us to believe, kids aren’t failing because their teachers are bad. They are not failing because they have failed the system. They are failing because the system has failed them. The system is flawed and it places too much emphasis on quantitative data and not enough on qualitative data. Sure, a kid could be terrible at math but that same child could grow up to be a great author or songwriter or artist. We will never know if that same child learns, in Kindergarten, that he or she just doesn’t measure up. And that would be the real failure of our education system.


Fixing Education: Part 2

Of course the education system is not easy to fix. Of course simple solutions can’t possibly work. Of course because the world is a modern, technologically driven, globalized community, nothing is simple anymore. But that won’t stop me from offering a simple solution. Now…where was I?

Step One: Write Off The High Schools…For Now.

In certain circles, I can offer this bit of advice and people will look at me like I have grown a second, evil head. I am proposing that any plan that seeks to “fix” the educational system of the United States of America should leave out our high schools. Is it harsh to say that by a time a young person has reached his or her teens, the damage is done? And, for that matter, do they require “fixing”? I would have to say no and yes.

Every generation has its “These kids today” moments. When my parents were young, they couldn’t watch Elvis from the waist down. The holders of morality for that generation were afraid that Rock-and-Roll would destroy a generation. Post Elvis, there was the Beatles and their “long” hair. Along the years we experienced the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Grandmaster Flash, Devo, and about a thousand others. “These kids today” of every generation survived the onslaught of Jazz, Rock-and-Roll, Rhythm and Blues,  New Wave, Hair Bands, Grunge, Alternative, Hip Hop, Rap and everything in between. They survived the movies, television shows, comic books, concerts and Playboy and emerged on the other side as fully formed adults who broke the sound barrier, flew to the moon, and invented everything from microchips to Velcro. They became artists and doctors and rebels and politicians as well as plumbers and masons and electricians. They raised families and watched their kids do better than they did.  And we look at today’s “These kids today” (TKT) and weep for the future. Why? What has changed?

The Blame Game

It is easy to blame the media but it is unfair to blame any one medium for the ruination of this year’s graduating class. But when a child is walking, talking, media showcase, how can his teachers compete for his attention? I have six students in here with me now. They have an assignment and they know what to do and when the deadline is. All six are either on a computer or sharing one. From here I can see two screens are on Facebook and the other two are playing games. (Might sound like bad classroom management but part of the assignment is to meet deadlines and then, if the deadlines aren’t met, to analyze and problem solve the breakdown of the group dynamic.) I see two cell phones out and texting and I can hear another one vibrating in a pocket. All six kids have headphones on and are listening to their MP3 players. It’s not one medium that is making it hard, it’s all of them.

Yes. I understand that my kids are breaking the rules and wasting their time. Yes. I know that I should march up and down and gently reinforce the importance of education and cajole them into getting back on task. I should know each and every one of them by name, understand their home situation, know what each one wants to be when grown and make damned sure they have the tools they need to get there. But I’m tired. I am tired because I know that after the bell rings and I return from a half-hour of bus duty, I have another hour’s worth of work to do, a long commute home, a family of my own to engage, dogs to walk, papers to grade, lesson plans to rework, bills to pay and errands to run. I can’t get my own kid to decide what she wants to be when she grows up and she is already in her first year of college. College that she is only able to attend because of scholarships and grants. All of this and I am still expected to care more about the education of these six kids than they do or their parents do.

But I can’t compete with iPods and TV shows and Facebook and Video Games, all of which are now available in portable form. When I was one of “these kids today”, my music was on 12″ vinyl records or eight-tracks that required a player the size of a cinder block. My phone was attached to the wall with a 12 foot cord. The school’s computer required punch cards and Video Games were as exciting as…uhm…Pong. But they did require more of a commitment because I had to drive to the mall to play them, a quarter at a time.

But I Digress

I am not suggesting that we actually write these kids off. They are, for the most part, good kids who did not get our best collective effort. There were too many boutique math options, too many feel-good moments and too many politicians involved in their education along the way. All of these chefs worked this stew and no one ever questioned if they knew how to cook.  The result is a generation of kids who were sent mixed signals, alternating curricula and tested to the brink of distraction. They were told to succeed by people who no idea what success should look like. They have been trained to memorize but not to think and, as a result, they require their education to come in concise, easy to memorize facts and figures and they become flustered and uncomfortable when asked to reason or infer. It’s not their fault but we have to help them graduate the very best that they can, fill out their FAFSA Scholarship forms and hope that their colleges and universities and employers can sort things out.

But in my solution, the fix begins in Kindergarten. Not high school.


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