Television is quite messed up today, but it has become what it is mainly because of the viewer. After all, who responds to the titillation and the violence? Who rushes out to buy the product they see on the ads? We do.

Advertisers and programmers use their sleaze not because they want a nation of whores and streetfighters, but because we let sleaze color our judgment (think: if violence lowered sales or ratings, would you use it to sell?). And to them, to sell is to live; for too many of us, to buy is to live.

The only power strong enough, the only change thorough enough, is that which comes from the Spirit’s work in us. And, it goes beyond rebirth experiences; it requires that we allow Jesus to change our whole way of viewing the world, and establish his lordship over our desires.

Even that isn’t enough; it’s important that others come to know God and be changed. And, when we see violent or hypersexed advertising on TV shows, we shouldn’t watch and shouldn’t buy. Most important, we must control our own use of the television, so that it doesn’t take up the time we need to spend with each other.

From a CAM Art Center (Bayshore, N.Y.) interview, by reporter Robert Longman.

We can’t expect television to be preacher, teacher and policeman to the nation; it is not there to keep people in line. Those who would use it to that end are the ones from whom we have the most to fear. But there is something unsettling about the way television has abdicated the old values. It’s as if, somewhere along the way, the Judeo-Christian ethic became “controversial.” Or at least unfashionable.


Washington Post television critic

A Plea For Impoverished Children

This is not, as the title might lead you to believe, a plea for food to be sent to the starving children of Bangladesh, though God knows they need our help. This piece has to do with our own children. They are starving in a different way, but they need help as sorely. My thesis—it is actually Richard Mitchell’s thesis—is that 42 million pupils in our public schools are suffering from an educational malnutrition that threatens the very survival of the Republic.

Mitchell is the author of the recently published book, The Groves of Academe (Little, Brown), which ought to be a best seller but probably won’t be. Mitchell has stepped on too many toes. His view of the educational landscape is depressingly familiar. Once upon a time—and that time wasn’t so very long ago—our public schools taught mostly solid stuff. Children learned to read, chiefly by the phonics method, and they cut their teeth on books with some meat in them. Children learned arithmetic in the old-fashioned way. Early on, they learned something of history and geography. In high school they wrote themes; they memorized great chunks of poetry and drama; they had a go at foreign languages. Even in the great cities, disciplinary problems were few. The teachers were there to teach, and the pupils were there to be taught, and that was the size of it. The system worked. Whether the students went on to college or went to work in shops and offices and factories, they had a foundation to build on.

The past 50 years have wrought terrifying change. These days the curriculum is rotten at the core. Hurricanes of permissiveness and egalitarianism have swept away most of the old academic disciplines. The themes, the diagrammed sentences, the memory work, the tedious exercises in geometry, the courses in Latin, the elements of geography, the basic structure of names, dates, facts, events, the chronologies of kings—little of this remains. The hours that once were devoted to such instruction have been nibbled away. We have field trips now, and driver education, sex education, drug education, nutrition education. We have everything across a smorgasbord but an education.

Mitchell does not blame the classroom teachers for this wretched course of events. Many of them are as victimized as the children in their charge. He blames the top-heavy educational establishment—the teachers’ colleges, the producers of bland but profitable textbooks, the armies of coordinators, facilitators, consultants, counselors, and assistant supernumeraries who feed upon the swollen budgets for public education. He blames the school boards that are suckers for gaudy innovations. He blames the state legislatures that yield to clamorous pressure groups.

Here we have the trickle-down theory in its worst application. The teachers’ colleges (again, with exceptions) are manned by second-raters whose livelihood depends upon the teaching of superfluous courses. Ex-basketball coaches get doctoral degrees, based upon dissertations on Comparative Storage Systems for Athletic Equipment, and go on to become superintendents of schools.

The products of this system impose their incompetence on the prospective teachers in their charge, and the teachers, like Typhoid Marys, infect the little children. We get high school graduates who lick their pencils, gaze at the ceiling for inspiration, and spell Congress with a K.

Mitchell is an angry man. He fears for the future of our nation. We are never going to maintain world leadership if we produce a generation of thumb suckers and tube watchers, unable to read a daily newspaper or to recognize the inherited values of Western civilization.

Reprinted from Nation’s Business, February 1982; used by permission.

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