AFTER three years of thought and action I am ready to set down a few certainties about educational television. To some it means surcease from the insistent voice of the advertiser. To some, usually parents, it means the hope of children's programs in which no hoofs clatter, no pistols crack, and no one gets killed. To some educators it is just another technique for enrichment of curricula already loaded beyond taxpayer tolerance. To other educators and to a small band of determined laity, educational television is a movement to salvage some part of this printing of the air for systematic use in and out of the schoolroom.
In 1952 the United States Federal Communications Commission decided that approximately 12 per cent of American television should be conducted, not for business, but for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. Some 242 channels, so restricted, were set aside one in each of the sizable communities as well as in some of the smaller communities of the United States. No money was provided to implement these channels. No criteria were set up to determine what programs would be considered educational. But there is one clear, inescapable prohibition: these educational channels cannot carry advertising and cannot operate for profit. If a community is to have educational television, it must pull itself up by its own devices.
Commercial television is a business -- a legitimate business as proper as the business of making shoes or ships or sealing wax. Furthermore it is a business which must sell its product - time and space on the television screen - to advertisers whose payments are the revenue for payrolls, other expenses, and profits, the necessary end of all business. To expect such a business to engage in sustained educational endeavors would be naïve. On the other hand, to concede that all television should be conducted as commercial enterprise would be irresponsible. Suppose Gutenberg's press and all of its successors had been used for printing only those books which some manufacturer or purveyor of a service was willing to finance. Business has its important disciplines and values, but as a be-all and endall it is not enough unless America is to become another Carthage.
Western Pennsylvania’s WQED, the first communityfinanced educational television station, has been broadcasting from Pittsburgh since April 1, 1954. Today there are 15 educational television stations which bespeak no commercial product and derive no financial support except of that type which keeps churches, colleges, and all charities alive. Educational television stations are located at Birmingham, Alabama; Boston, Massachusetts; ChampaignUrbana, Illinois; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio; East Lansing, Michigan; Houston, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Madison, Wisconsin; Miami, Florida; Munford, Alabama; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; St. Louis, Missouri; San Francisco, California; and Seattle, Washington. They reach an area inhabited by 46 million people. Seven of these stations are financed by broadly based commitnity fundraising programs, six are financed by educational institutions, and two are financed by state funds. Eleven additional educational television stations are tinder construction, and some hundred other communities are in various stages of planning.
The Ford Foundation provided the funds which were used by the Fund for Adult Education to breathe life into the embryonic movement the country over. In Pittsburgh the Arbuckle-Jamison Foundation (my older readers will remember the chocolatebrown, paperbagged coffee - fifteen cents per pound) gave almost half of its remaining funds, and the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust picked up the remainder of the
cash requirements; Westinghouse Electric Corporation, itself an applicant for a commercial TV channel in Pittsburgh, provided a longterm, rent-free lease on an existing tower, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company effectively expressed a hope that a building it gave to the University of Pittsburgh would be used for the educational television studio. Thus almost a half million dollars in money or values assured equipment and facilities. But where would the operating funds come from? 1
A valiant publicist, Dorothy Daniel, with a borrowed typewriter in a rentfree office began to assert that Pittsburgh was to have community television. "It is God's station," she told Fred Rogers and Josie Carey, early staff members whose allontheearth, nonviolent "The Children's Corner" now draws an average of 3000 scrawled epistles per week. "So it can't fail," Dorothy Daniel said, reasoning that enough of the television area's 635,000 set owners would give two dollars a year and enough of the area's 485 school districts would give thirty cents a child a minuscule sliver of their budgetsto make up a minimum $250,000 operating budget. About 8 per cent of the set owners and less than half of the school districts did make those contributions, and WQED took to the air. A more nearly adequate operating budget would be $350,000. In any case there must be volunteers.
At WQED the number of unpaid, voluntary, regular workers is almost equal to the number of paid staff. Organized labor, although scrupulously watchful of its interests, has been cooperative. The station for many purposes is a television training school. High school and college students sometimes learn quickly and perform regularly and voluntarily quite important functions this despite the fact that television professionals make a mystique of the art, as if the proper decorum of the air had been laid down by a Chesterfield. As a matter of fact, everybody is new at the television game because it was only yesterday that instantaneous, simultaneous transmission of picture and sound became a practical reality.
THERE is the delusion that all television must be entertaining - as if all I.Q.'s from 65 to 165 could be entertained alike and as if all books should be written in the mode of Elinor Glyn or Mickey Spillane. This delusion is a heritage from the movies and from the radio, which fell almost wholly to commercialism. But a necessity for popular appeal is no more inherent in television as a means of communication than in the human vocal cords or the hand that writes.
There is the delusion that education is not entertaining - as if the classes of the great teachers have not always been crowded, even by those who had no plan about learning beyond the desire to qualify for the university club back home. Dr. Frank Baxter responded almost mournfully to the suggestion that his regular classroom instruction in Shakespearean plays be put on television. He and CBS were equally astounded that the audience quickly reached 400,000.
There is the delusion that every television audience must be large - as if an Arthur Miller play could attract at any one performance as large an audience as a World Series baseball game. This delusion springs from the natural desire of the advertiser. When he talks about his product, he wants the world to listen. Why not? But it does not necessarily follow that there should be no television programs at all unless they attract the masses.
There is the delusion that educational television must compete with commercial television and will therefore fail, because where would the money come from for another Ed Murrow show or, for that matter, another Ed Murrow? And there is the delusion that charitably supported television should not, if it could, compete with commercial television. One Pittsburgher, a power in the financial world, said, "I am against it because it is not commercial." This naiveté made me realize how highly the ideological reflexes to television are already conditioned - as if the medium belonged exclusively to business. Even good friends of the movement falter on this point. They complain of the lack of realism of the Federal Communications Commission in barring all advertising. They speculate about schemes for consolidation between educational and commercial stations - only to learn that the very hours which are needed by God are also needed by Mammon. Why should television be considered the exclusive property of the bazaar?
There is the delusion that commercial television with its public service time will provide ample opportunity for cultural offerings if only the educators have the wit to grasp the nettle. But at what hours and for how long? There is no point to offering courses by television at hours when millworkers are on shift, when housewives are in the kitchen, when teenagers are in the sand lots - no point to beginning what cannot be finished. Furthermore, if a cultural or educational program becomes popular, some product will try to get as close to it as possible in the hope that the osmosis will be financially rewarding. Of this I am sure. I have watched the screens at all hours and in many places and I know. As an advertiser I would do it myself get my product as commingled as possible with the emotional and intellectual appeal of some eternal truth or beauty. This personal concoction is no exaggeration of the daily television screen:
Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes
of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
'Tis strange indeed, the lady's blind,
It's not perfume she needs to find;
But Acme Flakes within the pan
Will do the job and also scan.
I know that sound thinking and enduring emotions are not induced by a bedlam of irrelevancies. And I believe that television, which appeals simultaneously to the eye and to the ear, and instantaneously upon the event, has a potential for men's minds not less critical than that of atomic energy for their bodies.
There is the delusion that people will not give money for what they can get free. But they will; they have done so already in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, and in some twentyfive other cities and communities. Churches are free; a person could pray for a long time without suffering ostracism as a free rider. But enough people give money to keep the churches going, not as a purchase of service but from a conviction of the worth of organized religion. The case has been the same with hospitals, colleges, and social work. Voluntaryism in cultural affairs is an American way which is not defunct. Indeed, it is a positive principle a bulwark against statism.
In Pittsburgh a majority of our television board discouraged the idea of an allout appeal for legislative financial support. Admittedly we knew that the legislature would turn us down, but over and above that we knew the importance of developing local community standards for this new cultural medium. Poor but proud we have remained like Samuel Johnson and his worn shoes. This is not to say that municipal and state grantsinaid are not to be sought, once the soundness of the local controls has been proved the hard way. The decentralization of decision-making power is as essential for educational television as for education itself, for health and welfare, and for business. Only by this means can the force of community television remain dynamic - free of bureaucracy.
Now, what have we done in a year and a half of broadcasting? We have done best when we have been systematic. An estimated 70 per cent of the eligible people of western Pennsylvania do not possess a high school diploma. (It is estimated that only half of the students who currently enter American high schools stay to graduate.) In September, 1954, WQED in collaboration with local and state school authorities established the High School of the Air. Algebra, English, and American history are telecast systematically by teachers drawn from the school systems. Enrollments at five dollars per semester were in the hundreds. We are driving now toward thousands for the third semester this fall. One Pittsburgh educator predicts that with a little more knowhow we can enable a person who never attended high school to do four years' work in two years or less of television and pass the stateprescribed examinations for his diploma. Of our television high school viewers who have already taken the official examination, 71 per cent passed. WQED's High School of the Air comes at 7 P.M., nine months of the year. What commercial station could, or should be expected to, devote that revenuerich hour to a noncommercial project?
In western Pennsylvania 10 per cent of high school students fail in some subject each year. The taxpayer bears the load of cramming these failures into already overloaded classrooms and upon already overburdened teaching staffs for a second try. This summer, again in collaboration with the school systems, WQED tried out television programs formaking up high school courses. If the experiment works, the cost will be a fraction of the cost of any other method available to enable these less apt young students to keep pace with their fellows and get off the taxpayers' bounty.
Here was a case in which we programmed an hour and a half per day five days a week for only 323 people - the number of enrollees. Two hundred sixtyfive took the stateprescribed examinations and 78 per cent passed. We have proved a point. Over 8000 Allegheny County high school students fail in one or more subjects each year. We estimate that by television we can cure these failures at less than 10 per cent of the taxpayers' present cost. Meanwhile we know that a much larger audience is having some fun brushing up on the R's.
This fall, with foundation funds WQED will launch a world first in education by television. Fifth-grade arithmetic, reading, and French will be taught in nine demonstration schools selected by public school authorities from the school systems. The youngsters whose parents consent will view on a screen and listen to a teacher who stands, not in the classroom, but in our studio. Into Mother's living room will come the same sights and sounds of teaching which reach her child in the classroom.
What are the implications of all these systematic educational uses of television in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania? Lower costs of education for taxpayers; keeping educational pace with the population explosion; multiplication of the influence of the great teachers; more economical design of school housing; at long last effective adult education; what more? We make no claims. But we have grasped the nettle and will not put it down until we know what television holds for systematic education.
What about adult education? The path of experiment for educational television in this area is not equally clear. Anyone who has attended a convention of adult educators knows what a sprawling diffusion of concepts exists. Everything from Greek drama to cooking is involved. In Pittsburgh, Don and Art, two inspired teachers of polytechnics, were an original WQED show. They started on a basement floor with a sawbuck and the simplest tools and have moved to quite sophisticated wood and metal working. Their "Shop Talk" continues today a systematic, utilitarian aid to homemaking in a full employment economy with its prohibitive costs for small jobs. Edwin Peterson, of the University of Pittsburgh, a nationally known teacher of creative writing, for thirteen weeks on our screen reduced the mysteries of good writing to their honest, unpretentious simplicities. Ben Spock, of "Mother, you know more than you think" fame, presided for months over his informal, unrehearsed panel of mothers learning with their viewers, case by case, the attitudes and techniques which make childhood - and adulthood - flower. Colin Sterne, composer and musicologist, is experimenting as a classical music disc jockey. What were the social, personal, and economic influences upon Bach or Beethoven or Brahms? Why did each write as he did in his special language of sound, melody, and rhythm? The story cannot be told in commercial television's occasional symphonic or operatic hour. Systematic regularity is the key to education. Only community television can essay so deliberate a process.
Admittedly, educational television will never intrigue as large an audience as Arthur Godfrey once commanded. But, free of the compulsion of the profit motive, educational television can probe for higher levels of cultural response. Already WQED has interested the networks. Dr. Spock has gone to NBC with his program intact according to his own academic standards. On August 2O, "The Children's Corner" began a demonstration series on the NBC network. How would its delectable puppet, Daniel S. Tiger, President of the "Tame Tiger Torganization," that humanitarian tiger of good will - how would he fare commingling his young wisdom with plugs for Acme Flakes? Who knows? But he has already proved in Pittsburgh that television does not live by commercials alone. If educational television blazes trails in the cultural wilderness - trails which commercial television can use - this will be a marginal plus for the endeavor.
Even if we do not seduce the networks from their convictions that all I.Q.'s are subnormal, still the movement may avoid provincialism. The Educational Television and Radio Center, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a creation of the Fund for Adult Education, provides a program exchange. By kinescope, a process of filming television productions, the good shows of one station may become available to others. Contributions are thus produced for the creative station and costs reduced for the others.
The Center, itself a nonprofit institution, must use its donated dollars on both sides. But it has produced for lowcost rental to educational stations some good programs. For example: "Date Line," done under the auspices of the Russian Institute at Columbia University an analysis of the current Soviet press; a series on music by the colorful Dr. Howard Hanson of the Eastman School of Music and groups from the Rochester Symphony; and a series of twentysix films called "Frontiers of Space," produced near White Sands by New Mexico's College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. WKARTV at Michigan State College has produced a poignantly lovely children's program called "The Friendly Giant." KETC at St. Louis has produced a hardminded, irresistible program for scientifically oriented teenagers called "The Finder." These two programs, with WQED's "Children's Corner," cover the gamut from crib to postadolescence. The Center has them for distribution to educational television stations. The educational stations which produced them received from the Center some revenue. All other educational stations, in being or to come, are relieved at the outset from the high costs of children's and teenagers' programs. The Center's kinescopes (films) will start them off at a modest rental.
We are searching for an educational television policy in Pittsburgh. Plainly we should be systematic in what we do. The casual extravaganza however superbly done, is not educational. But in what areas should we seek to educate? Clearly we must not indulge the delusion that we can invite all men to come and be cultural. This would leave no provision for those who will always consider Shakespeare mere bombast and would never choose a Martha Graham recital in preference to an hour at the Follies. But we must also avoid the delusion that all men are either eggheads or others. This delusion would make no provision for those who can graduate from calendars to Speicher or from ham to Hamlet. Individual human sensitivities are not constants but variables, moving more often than not in direct response to the quality of the stimuli. Educational television must, like education itself, have no fear of truth, feel no shame of the esoteric, hold no brief for the momentary taste of the majority.
Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead
Thro' which the living Homer beg'd his bread.
A teacher at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute of Technology told me, "We have a test for the success of WQED. It will occur when a member of our faculty buys a television set." In three years of thought and action, I have found no better criterion of success. When good teachers themselves are stimulated by educational television, I shall have no fears about the rest of the audience.