Digital TV and Seniors

It’s December 1st, and the holiday shopping advertisements are deafening. A great many of the ads are for HDTVs (high-definition television). Advertisers would have us believe that, unless we buy an HDTV, and preferably now, we will not be able to see any television after February 17, 2009 when the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 takes effect Well, that’s not exactly true – although the way we hook up our TVs may be different in just over a year.

I am particularly worried about some of the most vulnerable people in my community as this looming change in television occurs. Among the vulnerable are senior citizens, who have lived through the evolution of television from click-clicking channel changers, through the discernment of which programs are in “living color” to remote controls. Senior citizens have endured changes in entertainment and room arrangement brought by the televisions that have come into their homes. They struggle to translate bundled cable service bills and Dish network telemarketers who promise features that in truth if they installed they’ll almost surely never learn how to use. My octogenarian family members still can’t understand why they could not watch their favorite Green Bay Packers when their Thursday night game was hijacked by the proprietary NFL network.

The Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act will require full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasts and switch to digital after February 17, 2009 and will free up much needed spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services and interoperable communications among emergency first responders. Television viewers will benefit because digital television provides consumers with a clearer picture and more programming options.

In order to watch “over the air” programming and realize a clearer picture (of negligible benefit to many), all consumers will need to make one of three choices:
1. Purchase a TV with a digital tuner (not affordable to many)
2. Subscribe to a cable or satellite provider and comply with any special appliance or hook-ups that the provider prescribes (not required by many who live near broadcasting stations)
3. Purchase a digital converter for the analog TV they currently own

The Digital TV Act authorizes the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) of the Commerce Department to create the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program, administer distribution of the coupons, and carry out consumer education. The Act provides that each household can get up to two $40 coupons to be applied to the purchase of digital converter boxes.

So, while even my eyes glaze over as I ponder the realm and advisability of the possibilities, I am afraid for senior citizens, who are still trying to choose among and cope with complicated drug insurance programs. I fear that many with limited income will fall victim to over-zealous charlatans and buy televisions or appliances that they can neither afford or learn to operate. Still more will just give up on the televisions that provide them with diversion and entertainment in often limited or lonely environments.

As I’m pondering this dilemma on a snowbound afternoon, I am considering how libraries can partner with senior organizations to provide the information that seniors as well as all our customers can use to navigate through these new circumstances.

While I think many are woefully ignorant of this pending change, I expect that libraries will step up to provide valuable information and help community residents get through it. After all, we did survive Y2K!

A sad day for kids and school libraries

Today I learned that another school has eliminated their school media specialist. The budget is stretched to the max, and something has to go — so it’s the professional teacher librarian media specialist who teaches kids how to learn and where to find the information for successful learning. The teacher librarian is part of the curriculum teaching team that teaches kids the literacy skills to help them succeed in a world where being a lifelong learner is critical. Just as the student uses the school library to complete the assignments from the classroom, the graduated student will use information seeking behaviors learned from the teacher librarian to complete life’s assignments.

I’m heartsick to think that the successful information literacy program this teacher has built has no value to the board who makes the decisions what to pay for and what to ax. Minnesota has no enforceable standards for students’ access to instruction by a certified teacher librarian. Indeed, the opinion of a number of schools is that they will keep the library open with a (much cheaper) non-teacher to carry out technical tasks. I wonder, how do they expect their students to acquire the higher level literacy skills of research, critical thinking, and problem solving without the curricular involvement of a skilled and certified teacher librarian.

A long time ago, when my mother began her teaching career in a one-room school, her classroom library was a collection of several book shelves, each with books for a different reading and learning level. When I attended a 2-room rural school in Wisconsin, my classroom library was a low shelf of books under the window. That world of information was somewhat finite and manageable by the classroom teacher.

As the world of information increased through the latter part of the 20th century and exploded through the technology of the 21st century, the need for instruction by a skilled information professional has become critical. Children must learn to learn – and keep learning. While we cannot predict what they will need to know as adults, we can equip them to be lifelong learners using the network of the communities’ libraries as their learning lab. Children who have not learned the information literacy skills critical to continuous learning from a teacher librarian will enter the adult work world with a fatal learning disability and handicap.

A media specialist’s words about what is important

Who would have thought that the word “scrotum” would cause such lively discussion among librarians, media specialists, the media, some parents, and the biblioblogosphere. In case you’ve missed it, the newly named Newbery Award-winning book by Susan Patron, The Higher Power of Lucky, uses the word on the first page when the book’s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum. Thus far, there have been praises and challenges for the book nationwide. Fortunately, in Minnesota, we’ve not heard much, although there has been considerable discussion on E-mail lists. The Star Tribune published an article Wednesday, Newbery flap more a ripple with media specialists in state

Media Specialist Tom Ross, Plymouth Middle School in Robbinsdale, wrote an amazing piece in a letter to the MEMOlist (Minnesota Educational Media Organization) about what is truly important to him (and the other wonderful educators I am blessed to work with). I asked his permission to share the piece with my readers, and he said he’s “honored.” Thank you, Tom for these words:

Higher Power of Lucky.

Come on folks… I am not worried about this word. I am worried about my student who attempted suicide twice. I am worried about my student who is falling through the cracks because everybody wants to discipline him, but I think he is so depressed that he will end up like that first student. Everybody is trying to do the right thing, but we are not perfect people. Sometimes we may not cover every child perfectly and yet our heart is breaking over each one. I am worried about the gangs x-ing out each other, I am worried about my principals giving up because they are being worn down by parents who are demanding perfect people handle their children and there are none to be found. I’m worried about my Goth student that thinks that nobody cares about him as a human being and I wonder if he is cutting again. I’m worried about the little girls that come to school with bruises and bumps and social services is working on the problem… but there are not enough of them to cover everybody fast enough… I’m worried about the teachers that are leaving because they can’t handle the disrespect, intensity and pace of their job…Good people who will be lost forever to one of the most important task society has given them. I’m worried that society is abandoning us because they want to pretend the problem is the language in the book and it’s not the kids who are dying. I’m worried about the kids whose mom has 3 part time jobs and no insurance. I’m worried that if one of my students ends up running away, she may end up a street child who will be abused by some evil man for something as fleeting as money. I’m sorry this is a word that just doesn’t worry me. I want my students to live to the next day… That worries me.

Sorry if I have my values misplaced, my heart is breaking for my kids right now.

Tom Ross
Plymouth Middle School