Cable in the Classroom (CIC), the cable-industry initiative
to provide commercial-free educational programming to schools, continues to receive high
marks from educators around the country.
"Once teachers find out about it, its potential and
the curriculum materials that go with it, they really find it dynamic and exciting,"
said Janet Hudgens, media specialist for Arlington Schools in Arlington, Va., who, through
her own staff's development-in-technology program, has introduced several teachers to
"There is a wealth of programming out there for
teachers in my field, and the amount for other teachers is continuing to grow at an
incredible rate," said Cathy Priest, a social-studies and language-arts teacher at
Perry (Ohio) High School. "There is no reason for a teacher not to be able to find
some use for it."
CIC, originally called the Cable Alliance for Education,
began in 1989; member networks such as Cable News Network, the Discovery Networks U.S.
channels, A&E Network and Nickelodeon set aside a portion of their on-air schedule to
air commercial-free programming on such subjects as science, art history, math and
Some of the programming, such as CNN's daily half-hour
CNN Newsroom/WorldView, is created specifically for CIC, while other networks
reformat their documentary programming to fit teachers' needs. All of the programs
are copyright-cleared to allow schools to build their own video libraries.
The $420 million public-service effort is supported by 38
national cable networks and more than 8,500 local cable companies, providing free cable
connections and more than 540 hours per month of programming to nearly 78,000 public and
private schools, representing about 83 percent of U.S. students.
"They kind of act like a clearinghouse," said Jim
Tone, assistant principal at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash. "They've been
very helpful and allowed me to access some resources that would otherwise have been much
more time-consuming to get."
Tone said his involvement with CIC began about eight years
ago, when he was a science teacher at Tacoma's Jason Lee Middle School, through the
city's local Tele-Communications Inc. affiliate.
"It was a very urban school, and money was always very
tight," he said. "I was able to get articles, videotapes and access to grants
and programs that I was not even aware of before." Through contests, he was also able
to win TV sets and VCRs for the school.
The use of video in the classroom is nothing new, of
"You could always tape that stuff," Tone said,
"but then, you would have to figure out a lesson plan for it. With Cable in the
Classroom, you're able to get a lesson plan from the local TCI rep, which they would
get from, say, A&E. This meant that I didn't have to spend hours developing my
own lesson plan."
OFF TO AFRICA
"I always used video, but most of the video was not
tailored to our needs, and the students would find them a little boring," Priest
said. "I took a look at [CIC's] initial offerings and saw that they had
improved, but that they still needed work, so I would only use it now and then."
What changed everything was her students winning a contest
sponsored by Dimension Cable (now Time Warner Cable) and Discovery during the 1991-92
school year, sending her and the class on a three-week safari to Africa.
It was then that Priest started discussing with Discovery
how to make CIC really work for teachers.
"Until they could make it teacher-directed and usable,
there was really no benefit," she recalled.
In 1992, Priest began to work with Discovery as an
educational-workshop facilitator and consultant, making sure that the programming fit
statewide curricula. Since that time, she has been in contact with several other networks.
Among her objectives: making sure that programs were around 20 minutes in length, rather
than two hours; that they came with support materials; and that they were commercial-free.
"I love the fact that it's commercial-free,"
said Josette Burns, a history teacher at Plantation (Fla.) High School. "There's
a competitor out there with news programs that include commercials. With Cable in the
Classroom, there's none of that feeling that they're trying to sell the students
Burns especially relies on A&E's Biography,
The History Channel and CNN Newsroom, as well as MTV: Music Television's Community
of the Future series, which discusses such issues as politics, teen-age violence and
"It [Community] really is geared so that the
students can relate it to their own lives," Burns said.
MONEY FROM GOD
Teachers instructing much younger students also feel that
they have benefited from using CIC. Karen Stofcheck, a teacher at Lecanto (Fla.) Primary
School, has used it for all different subject areas and levels, from kindergarten through
"I did a lesson with my first-graders on how to manage
money," she said, "and at that age, they really have no concept at all of where
money comes from.
"Before we began, I asked the students where they
thought money came from, and one said from the copy center, one said from work and one
little girl said it came from God."
A Discovery program on printing money was able to clear up
that question, as did a C-SPAN show on what the president does with his day.
"We're located in rural Florida, and there really isn't that much of a
connection all the time with what he does," Stofcheck said.
Again, she asked the students beforehand what their ideas
were, and answers ranged from feeding Socks the cat and building dollhouses for Chelsea to
carving the statues that adorn the Capitol building.
CIC initiatives have also resulted in publicity for the
Linda Karen Miller, a social-studies teacher at Fairfax
(Va.) High School, was able to get C-SPAN to film the school's annual "Law
Day" May 1, 1997, featuring a presentation by U.S. Supreme Court clerk William Suter.
"We received an unbelievable level of feedback from
across the country," Miller said. "It really put us on the map, and we're
hoping to repeat it this year," with former Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood
Marshall's son, John, speaking about criminal courts.
C-SPAN has since received numerous requests for the tape,
which teachers nationwide have been able to use for developing lesson plans, and Miller
herself has received several letters from other educators. "You never know how many
friends you have until you've been on cable," she said with a laugh.
Sheila Holleger, a social-studies teacher at John B. Moore
Middle School in Smyrna, Del., took an "electronic field trip" with her class to
a Costa Rican rain forest last year, set up with Turner Broadcasting System Inc. through
her local Comcast Corp. affiliate.
Students were able to phone in live, "and, in some
cases, some of our students were actually able to hear themselves on the TV, talking to
people in Costa Rica," she said.
Holleger commended Turner for including cross-subject
materials covering every area of the curriculum -- math, science, social studies, English
and even art.
"That way, the students can see the significance of a
particular topic in all of the areas. This really is where the future is," she added.
"We couldn't afford to fly everyone down to Costa Rica, so this was the
Most of the educators said they were initially skeptical
about the CIC initiative.
"Like any new tool, it takes a while to work with it
upfront and to find out how it fits into the curriculum," Hudgens said. "After
the initial few times, you find out that it really doesn't require all that much
"It's phenomenal," she added,
"especially now that it's online, and you can whip up lesson plans off the
programmers' channels and print them out. It's interactive, it's hands-on,
it includes assessments and evaluations, goals and objectives -- why would you not want to
use something like this?"
Stofcheck said she was not sure how to set it up at first,
and she was also afraid of infringing on copyrights. But the door was opened for her after
a local Time Warner representative came in and held a one-hour workshop, explaining what
teachers can tape and show and how long they can keep it.
"I took a little convincing," Burns said.
"Teachers get so much in their mailbox on a daily basis -- 'Try me!'
'Try me!' -- but once our cable representative showed us what the product was, I
Hudgens noted that not all schools are wired for cable,
with some having only one room wired or not having easy access to TV sets. She applauded
CIC for its volunteer programs, which are designed to pay for such facilities.
One such initiative, which was expected to be announced at
the National Show in Atlanta last week, is an expansion of CIC's "Cable in the
Classroom Comes Home" program, which encourages parents and other volunteers to help
schools build free, noncommercial, educational-video libraries.
"The cable companies have really listened to
teachers," Priest said. "It's better-quality and more curriculum-directed
than it used to be, and it has improved considerably during the '90s."