SAN FRANCISCO -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson sharply criticized television violence yesterday for its contribution to a cultural crisis that he said had been unfairly blamed on public schools.
"The school has been the dumping grounds for all the maladies of the culture," Mr. Jackson told a crowd of the Commonwealth Club at the Hilton Hotel. "[But] by the time a youngster is 15 years old, he or she has seen 18,000 hours of television violence compared to 11,000 hours spent in school and 3,000 in church."
Mr. Jackson urged rejection of the school voucher initiative on California's ballot next week, but his real target seemed to be the saturation of television with what he called "drug and greed-driven violence."
The address was part of a Bay Area swing on Mr. Jackson's Stop the Violence campaign, which included visits to high schools in Oakland and San Francisco.
Mr. Jackson recounted meeting a young Washington, D.C., high school boy recently who had threatened to kill a schoolmate at 3 p.m. that day. The student told Mr. Jackson that the schoolmate had "been staring me down" and so he had resolved to kill him.
"The boy had no capacity to resolve conflict without murder," Mr. Jackson said. "He brought that into school from his No.1 teacher: mass media.
"On TV, the killing is followed by credits; in life killing is followed by consequences."
Mr. Jackson brought the two boys together for a discussion and dissuaded them, as he said, "from killing each other at 3 o'clock."
The media has worsened the problems in the country's inner cities by continually portraying blacks as "less hard-working than we are, less intelligent than we are, less patriotic than we are and more violent than we are," Mr. Jackson said.
That has affected the self-esteem of young blacks and their own expectations for the future, he said.
The two-time presidential candidate dismissed Proposition 174, the voucher initiative, as "just another conservative, popular-appealing, expensive and non-remedy solution." Those who attack public schools for the conditions of violence, crime, and drugs that plague modern American life are misdirecting their rage, he warned.
Instead, Mr. Jackson said, the public must invest more in education. Comparing the cost of one year at a state university -- $12,000 -- with the cost of one year at Soledad state prison -- $30,000 to $40,000 -- clearly showed the social benefits of investment in a strong educational system, he said.
"We're either going to pay to educate them or pay to jail them," Mr. Jackson said.
Sounding traditional Democratic causes, Mr. Jackson talked about the benefits of prenatal care, Head Start programs, and other federally funded programs. And he urged private citizens to work with children and help heal urban conditions that he said were too complex for quick-fix solutions.
"Let's make every school choice and every child chosen," he said to spirited applause.
Mr. Jackson also threw several barbs in President Clinton's direction, criticizing NAFTA and proposed financing for health-care reform.
"It seems the president is stopping one step short of where we need to go to compromise with the insurance companies," he said.