A husband-and-wife KU research team is going to Washington, D.C., to help convince people that educational television can help prepare children for school.
Two Kansas University children's television researchers planned to spend some quality time today with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In a politically inspired media event -- "Sesame Street" star Big Bird is to take center stage at the White House -- professors John Wright and Aletha Huston will help public broadcasting supporters explain to Mrs. Clinton the positive influence of educational programming.
At a time when some politicians want to cut federal investment in public broadcasting, Wright said it was important to speak out in favor of government programs that help kids.
Wright, co-director with Huston of the KU Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children, said their latest study showed "Sesame Street" and other scholastic programs played a positive role in the preparation of children for school.
"Educational television makes an important and valuable contribution to children's development," Huston said.
Their four-year study showed instructive programs helped children 2 to 5 years of age with letter-word knowledge, math skills, vocabulary size and achievement tests. Among children 4 to 7 years old, the research showed, educational TV stimulated interest in reading.
"Conversely, children who spend a lot of time watching commercial cartoons perform less well," Huston said.
Wright said the study, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and Children's Television Workshop, indicated it was a mistake for parents to turn the TV to the wall and claim they were protecting children.
"It's an oversimplified cop-out," he said. "From now on, in light of this (research), it would be scientifically misleading to start talking about what television does. TV doesn't do anything. It depends on what you're watching."
Wright said people need to stop thinking all television is evil.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., needs to understand that educational programs are a cost-effective way of improving the lives of children, he said.
"TV does more harm than good, we know that," Wright said. "But we can change that by improving educational TV and getting Newt to support the budget for public broadcasting."
Gingrich has expressed support for elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The idea is that commercial television will pick up the slack in educational programming.
"All the evidence is that they are wrong," Huston said.