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New York City

Moderator President Augusta Kappner, Panelists Laybourne of Disney, Monroe of Fox Kids Network & Kleeman of Center of Children's TV speak at Harvard Club

Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a regulation that requires a minimum of three hours per week of television educational programming for children. What are the ramifications? What directions will programming take? How will television handle the new regulation?

These were just a few of the questions explored in a provocative, cutting edge conference organized by Bank Street College of Education at the Harvard Club. Panelists representing the leading private and public sectors involved in children's television programming met with educators and media specialists to present their views and have an open discussion. "What kinds of programs help children discover their own ways to learn: to question, speculate, and learn more about themselves?" asked President Kappner of Bank Street as she opened the session.

Historically, Bank Street has been a leader in working with teachers, parents and schools since 1916. Bank Street began its involvement with television by serving as consultants to Captain Kangaroo, one of the first educational programs for children. The College served for many years as consultants to the ABC After-School Specials. Next came the Voyage of the Mimi, a multimedia math and science learning package broadcast nationwide on PBS in 1984. Currently, the College provides consultation services for Allegra's Window, a preschool television show on NICK, Jr. as well as developing child centered products, books, CD Roms and educating hundreds of teachers and children each year.

Geraldine Laybourne, President of Disney/ABC Cable Networks lauded Bank Street for its vision in putting the panel together. She noted that "advances in children's television have come from people with lofty goals" not from governmental regulations. Producers, parents, programmers and educators are the ones who have the ability to make a difference in children's television. Laybourne is concerned that the labeling of programs by the FCC, that a narrow view of the term 'educational' may actually make children turn away; that broadcasters will put on shows that will meet FCC requirements but that will not be viewed by children. Programming on ABC will be filled with characters that are interesting to kids like "Pepper Ann, too cool to be 12" (clip was shown), coming to ABC this fall on Saturday mornings. Programs will tackle science and teach kids to solve problems creatively. ABC is making educators part of their team. "We have a job to educate the FCC as to what is good for kids and what kids will watch," said Laybourne. She ended by noting that children's television is only in its infancy; that we've only just begun.

David Kleeman, Executive Director of the American Center for Children's Television, feels that we should have hard research data on what enrages kids and what they enjoy. He feels we must give children a compelling reason to come to a television station. His concept is to build a "three hour amusement park for learning." He cited the importance of the five C's: Cash, Clout, Commitment, Competence and Connections (ie creative exchange). Laybourne added another C: Caring Adults.

Carol Monroe, Senior Vice President, Program Services, at Fox Kids Network, clarified the role of the FCC. Stations are required to report to the FCC what they're actually doing in addition to providing programming. The FCC is vague though, about the definition of 'educational.' Monroe spent the last several months meeting with kids, educators and technologists to talk about the future. "The one thing we know about the future is that everyone's predictions will be wrong," she said. "We do know that there will be a convergence of computers and television but we don't know when or how. Kids today are excited about learning. We will be able to help the learning process in ways that we were never able to do before."

What will the future hold in store? Some of the recommendations of the panel and audience: programs that educate 9-11 year olds, a better navigation system to help parents choose programs, better preschool programs, news shows for kids, a magazine format for adolescents.

President Kappner summed it up when she said, "We have entered a new era in thinking about creativity in television programming for children."



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