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Educational Television, Fred Rogers, and the History of Education

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Robert A. Levin
Education and American Studies at Youngstown State University
Laurie Moses Hines
Cultural Foundations of Education at Kent State University-Trumbull


The history of teaching and learning via television has compressed into a half-century many of the same stages and themes of the larger story of common schooling in the United States. Responding to a variety of public, private, and foundation interests in the post-World War II period, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set aside 242 television frequencies for noncommercial educational purposes in 1952. Three decades earlier, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) had asserted a need for broadcasting to serve a common good for the broad public and civic interest. During the 1920s, nonnetworked educational radio stations were formed on various college and university campuses.

Copyright © 2003 by the History of Education Society 

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1 Starr, Jerold M. Air Wars: The Fight to Reclaim Public Broadcasting (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 21.

2 Hoynes, William Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market, and the Public Sphere (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), 3839.

3 See, for example: Ledbetter, James Made Possible By…: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States (London: Verso, 1997), and Richard Somerset-Ward, “Public Television: The Ballpark's Changing—Background Paper,” in Quality Time? The Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Public Education (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993), 75–174.

4 “A Timeline of Television History.” Canadian Museum of Civilization online, 7 August 2001. (8 May 2003). Nat Pendleton, “The Dawn of Modern, Electronic Television.” Paper presented to the March 2001 meeting of the South Carolina Historical Association. Hilliard, OH: Early Television Foundation online, 28 May 2002. (8 May 2003).

5 Ibid.

6 Gordon, George N. Educational Television (New York: Center for Applied Research in Education, 1965), 5152.

7 Gable, MarthaTelevision in the Philadelphia Public Schools,“ in New-som, Carroll V., ed., A Television Policy for Education. Proceedings of the Television Program Institute Held under the Auspices of the American Council on Education at Pennsylvania State College, April 21–24, 1952, (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1952), 118–120.

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8 See, for example, Cuban, Larry Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology since 1920 (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986), as well as Cuban's later work, Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

9 Gordon, George N. Educational Television, 911.

10 Furey, Edward J.Station WQED Opens New TV Epoch Here,“ Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 2 April 1954, reprinted in Round-Up of the Nation's Press, a publication of the Joint Committee on Educational Television, No. 14. Folder, “Pittsburgh Television WQED-WQEX,” Pennsylvania Room, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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11 “Fred Rogers’ Biography,” Family Communications online, 2003 (9 May 2003).

12 “But Some Buts Are Being Voiced,” an undated excerpt from a report of The Fund for the Advancement of Education, in File “Pittsburgh Television-WQED-WQEX 1950s” in the Pennsylvania Room, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Also see Note 7.

13 “Teaching by Television,” a joint publication of the Ford Foundation and the Fund for the Advancement of Teaching (New York: Ford Foundation, May 1959), 34–37.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 6–7.

16 Ibid, 9–10.

17 Ibid., 11–15.

18 “Check-Up for Tomorrow.” (Pittsburgh: Metropolitan Pittsburgh Educational Television WQED-WQEX, 1964).

19 When the U.S. Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, it created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) as an organizational and financing source for what would become PBS (1969) and National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970.

20 “Fred Rogers’ Biography,” see note 11.

21 Ibid.

22 “Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor,” documentary film jointly produced by WQED-Pittsburgh and Family Communications, Inc. hosted by actor Michael Keaton (a former backstage employee of Rogers’ on the Neighborhood), May 2003.

23 “Amounts Authorized and Appropriated for CPB, 1969–2001.” Public Broadcasting PolicyBase, a service of Current Newspaper and the National Public Broadcasting Archives, 21 April 2001, online at (3 May 2003). Also see “Public Broadcasting Act of 1967” and other documents and links with text, or citations for library-archived materials, at the National Public Broadcasting Archives, University of Maryland Libraries, 1 April 2003, online at http.// (5 May 2003).

24 Alperowicz, C. and Krock, R. Rocking the Boat: Celebrating 15 Years of Action for Children's Television (Newtonville, MA: Action for Children's Television, 1983) and Barry G. Cole and Mal Oettinger, Reluctant Regulators: The FCC and the Broadcasting Audience (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1978). ACT's archival materials are located in the Special Collections of the Monroe C. Gutman Library, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

25 See Note 1.

26 “What are your kids watching?” USA Today Magazine 131 (August 2002).

27 MacDonald, G. JeffreyThe Big Money Guys,“ The Christian Science Monitor, 8 April 2003, pp. 1315, citing PBS sources.

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28 Ibid.

29 Ellen Condliffe Lagemann Private Power for the Public Good: A History of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching [1983] (New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1999); idem., The Politics of Knowledge: The Carnegie Corporation, Philanthropy, and Public Policy (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989); Condliffe Lagemann, Ellen (ed.), Philanthropic Foundations: New Scholarship, New Possibilities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).

30 Fass, Paula S. and Ann Mason, Mary, eds., Childhood in America (New York: New York University Press, 2000). The noted articles are by Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Media Violence and Children,” pp. 469–472, and Steinberg, Don, “What Makes Nick Tick?” (referring to the Nickelodeon cable television network), pp. 697–699. A related piece on the history of children's toys, by Gary Cross, appears on pp. 694–696, excerpted from his book, Kids Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).

31 See, for example, Donovan, Robert J. and Scherer, Ray Unsilent Revolution: Television News and American Public Life, 1948–1991 (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, published by Cambridge University Press, 1992).

32 See Note 8.

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