By Margot Pepper
Six years into the "War on Terror," my 2nd-grade Spanish immersion students found that aggression, selfishness, and insults have exploded on national television.
For the last decade, I've had my students at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif., analyze television shows preceding National TV-Off week, organized by the TV-Turnoff Network, which this year is April 21-27. I ask the 7- and 8-year-old students to collect all the data themselves. For seven days, students study a random sampling of about 35 English and Spanish-language children's television shows — and one or two soap operas or reality shows.
The first day of the study, as homework, students shade in a square on a special graph sheet each time they see hitting, hurting, or killing on half-hour segments of the shows they regularly watch, viewed from beginning to end. The second day, they focus on acts of selfishness; the third day, on instances of put-downs; and the fourth day, on the number of times a typical class rule is broken. Finally, in class, four groups of students compile the data produced by the homework, each focusing on one of the four variables in the study. But in April 2007, when I pulled out model graphs compiled by a class in April 2002 — year one of President Bush's "war on terror" — the contrasts between their graphs and those produced five years prior shocked my students.
'In a half hour of [the cartoon] 'Jackie Chan' in 2002 you would see hitting 10 times at most," wrote 7-year-old Flynn Michael-Legg in the essay I assigned summarizing the findings of our study. "In 2007, shows of 'Jackie Chan' had [up to] 34 hitting scenes." For the 2001-02 season, nearly one-fourth of the television shows my students watched had one or no acts of violence at all in one half-hour. Now of the shows they watch, only That's So Raven continues to have no violence, and all other shows have at least three instances of hitting or violence in one half-hour. Today, nearly half the shows randomly viewed by my students contain seven to 34 instances of hitting or other violent acts each half-hour.