The Rise and Fall of ‘Screen Education'

Excerpted, with permission of the author, from The Children of Telstar: Early Experiments in School Television Production

How schools failed in first attempts to introduce media studies.

At one time, in the decade before World War II, the culture and the schools became very serious about mass media focusing on the movies. Programs of film study were set up in hundreds of high schools to combat social and moral evils, both real and conjectured.

But "in keeping with our national capacity for displaying great bursts of short lived moral indignation," said media visionary John Culkin, the programs did not last. By the early sixties a report on the history and status of screen education said that the movement failed to survive the war and that (in 1963) there was not one high school or set of published materials that could be considered a prototype for educators who wanted to develop a program of systematic study.

A number of educators of those times understood the need for film or "screen education" even though it did not become a staple in the curriculum. A 1958 report of the Educational Policies Commission of the National Education Association on "Mass Communication and Education" is one piece of evidence:

"In light of the time spent by today's student with the media of mass communication, some study of these media and the communication process is essential. This means, first, the creation of an awareness of the place communication holds in the modern environment … The necessity of these skills is not recognized as easily as the lack of ability to read … There is a deceptive sense of effortless connected with reception of these channels … The recognition that a picture can express editorial opinion even more easily than the written word can help build a wall against propaganda.

A considerable body of research literature which provides the basis for teaching how to watch and listen is emerging, although established curriculum programs are still rare. The need for such teaching, however, is everywhere."