As America's children return to school, a group of TV shows about education arrive on PBS as part of back-to-school week. The lineup is impressive and timely, and surely as entertaining as anything most youngsters will find in their local classrooms.
"Good Morning, Miss Toliver" (10:30 tonight on WMPT-channels 22 and 67) is a profile of a charismatic math teacher who inspires her disadvantaged pupils to do great things. Kay Toliver teaches math to students at East Harlem Tech, in a violent, drug-infested neighborhood in New York, but her classroom is an oasis of warmth, learning and fun.
Miss Toliver is the kind of teacher who, when studying shapes, hands out packages of straws and masking tape and challenges the kids to see who can build the highest structure that will stand on its own. Or takes the kids on a walk around the neighborhood to see where math fits into everyday life.
"They make their own discoveries. It makes them feel good. And I want my students to feel good," she says. Her enthusiasm, energy and creativity are infectious, as well as a reminder that the best way to improve America's schools is to get gifted people to become teachers.
There are valuable lessons, too, in "Something Within Me" (at 9 tonight), an hour-long program about a Catholic grade school in New York's South Bronx that uses the arts, especially music, to inspire and motivate inner-city kids. The message here is that music and art are not frills, even though they are often the first things to go when school budgets get tight.
At St. Augustine's School of the Arts, every kid learns to read music, play an instrument and perform in an orchestra, band or vocal group. No special talent for music is required, and enthusiasm for learning appears to be widespread. Music becomes the gateway to reading, math, history. Before long, the kids are learning about teamwork, discipline and self-esteem, as well as "Aida" and Sonny Rollins.