Schools of the air: Rediscovering radio's educational history
William Bianchi, Northern Illinois University, United States
Northern Illinois University . Awarded
This study is an historical analysis of the radio schools of the air (SOA) movement. In their heyday, SOAs broadcast daily instructional programs during school hours to millions of American schoolchildren. They offered a broad curriculum that included arts, science, literature, geography, and physical education. Nearly 50 SOAs were operated by commercial broadcast networks, state universities, state departments of education, and local school boards.
Four of the most prominent SOAs are documented, including NBC's Music Appreciation Hour, CBS's American School of the Air , the Ohio School of the Air and the Wisconsin School of the Air. For each, the study documents origins, founders, goals and motives, educational philosophy, instructional methods, curriculum, audience, evaluation, and reasons for demise. SOA founders such as Walter Damrosch, Ben Darrow, Alice Keith, William Bagley, and Harold McCarty are featured. Also described is the effort to establish a federally supported national school of the air.
Few contemporary scholars mention SOAs, and those who do tend to dismiss them as unsuccessful due to insufficient audience size. Some concluded that radio had not been accepted as a full-fledged member of America's educational family. Others said that teachers never accepted radio (or any other technology) into their classrooms.
This study argues that the story of schools of the air has been largely overlooked and misinterpreted. The Wisconsin School of the Air proved a rousing success and became an integral part of Wisconsin's educational system. Overemphasis on audience size masked the accomplishments of the other SOAs. Though the network SOAs were designed chiefly to serve corporate aims, both produced remarkable educational programming. The networks ceased broadcasts to the schools not because of teacher attitudes, but because of changing market conditions. Teachers were important gate keepers in determining whether SOAs could be used in the classroom, but their decisions were often based on factors beyond their control. This history also raises the question, Could the Internet's brilliant educational potential follow a path similar to that of radio's schools of the air?
Bianchi, W. Schools of the air: Rediscovering radio's educational history. Ph.D. thesis, Northern Illinois University.
Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.
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