March 01, 2006
The prevailing wisdom is that TV is no friend of education. (They don't call it the "Idiot Box" for nothing, right?) But two economists from the University of Chicago conducted a study and found that TV-watching makes "very little difference and if anything, a slight positive advantage" in student test scores. The economists took advantage of a natural experiment, evaluating data from the 1940s and early 1950s, when television was introduced in different U.S. cities at different times. Unfortunately, the study did not control for what children watched, nor does it give precise information about how many hours children spent in front of their TV screens. These are awfully big limitations; the benefits of watching, say, the Texaco Star Theater in the 50s probably do not extend to children today spending their afternoons absorbing the latest MTV Real World marathon. When compulsive TV viewing takes the place of studying, pleasure reading, or active outdoor fun, it's not a good thing. And we've yet to see any study challenge that.
"Study Finds Test Scores Not Lowered by Television," by Elisabeth Jensen, New York Times, February 27, 2006