Teachers use TV shows to give lessons on life Children learn what's good and bad HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION


NTC Who says TV is all trash?

Teachers at Talbott Springs Elementary School don't think so. They're using the tube to expound on such values as responsibility, integrity, honesty, self-worth and care for the environment.

The lessons come in 10-minute "TV Talks," periodic discussions about what's good and bad, as portrayed in popular television programs.

The talks are the brainchild of Principal Thomas Brown, who was looking for ways to incorporate Howard County's 2-year-old values education initiative into the curriculum.

The school board launched values education in the 1991-92 school year in response to community concerns and a general feeling that societal values have deteriorated in recent decades.

Values education aims to teach the county's 34,300 students about 18 basic human virtues, including compassion, democracy, equality of opportunity, justice and community service.

And what better vehicle, teachers ask, than television, which children watch an average of 3.5 hours a day, or close to 25 hours a week?

"I think there are children who watch too much TV," said Talbott Springs fifth-grade teacher Wanda Martin. "You can't control what they watch, but if I can show them there's something positive in whatever they watch, then that's great."

One recent day, Ms. Martin placed a sign that read "Responsibility" on the wall-length chalkboard in her classroom. She asked her class of squirming 9 and 10 year olds for the word's meaning.

"You can't go outside when you have homework," offered Melissa Lansey, a fifth-grader.

"Responsibility," said fifth-grader Alana Ausiejus, "means that if you're baby-sitting, you have to do everything to feed them, change them, take care of them."

Fifth-grader Laura Sutton recalled an episode of "Rescue 911," which she said was her favorite show.

"There was a girl who was being held hostage by a good friend," she said. "The cops had the responsibility of getting her out of there. They had responsibility of saving the girl, so no one would get hurt."

Laura, 9, noted the suspect was caught and sentenced to 45 years in jail.

Mary Isacco, 10, referred to an episode of "Full House," a show about a single father raising three girls in a home he shares with a brother and a friend.

"Michelle Tanner had to take responsibility for kicking the ball into the wrong goal," she said.

In Lois Savar-Rock's fourth-grade class, Candace Sheppard brought up an episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" to discuss honesty. In that episode, Carlton, a straight-laced, straight-A character, had taken some drugs that belonged to his cousin Will and had gotten sick.

"Carlton fell out, so Will had to take him to the hospital," Candace, 9, said. "After a while, Will told his aunt and uncle that the drugs were his."

It was hard for Will to confess -- he even cried -- but it was the right thing to do, Candace said.

The school system's TV talks have helped 9-year-old Megan Rulison understand honesty.

"We see characters [being dishonest] on TV and we see them get in trouble," she said. "On TV, we can see our parents' reaction, too, so we know what can happen to us if we [are dishonest]."

The fourth-grader, whose favorite show is "Saved By The Bell," avoids what she calls "bad TV," shows that have characters who curse and discuss mature matters, such as sex.

And 9-year-old Katie Lange thinks TV puts bad ideas into her head. She believes children shouldn't be allowed to watch too much TV, and they "shouldn't be allowed to watch past 10."

The discussion program gets high marks from teachers.

"I think it's a really good way to talk about the values, because in so much of what's happening in the lives of [characters on] television, there are good values," said Ms. Savar-Rock said.

"My preference would be for all the children to give their TVs away," she said. "But that's not going to happen. Television is a very large part of their lives."

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