While a majority of Utah educators have publicly questioned whether state officials truly value their efforts, scores of reading teachers found a friend in Lt. Gov. Val Oveson on Saturday.

Addressing participants at the general session of the 24th Annual State Reading Conference at the Red Lion Hotel, Oveson shared a personal commitment to literacy, born of his own admitted difficulty with reading. "Early in my own school career, I was put into a cubbyhole at Westmore Elementary in Orem with several others who, like me, had somehow missed out on the concept of phonics."Oveson told of the anguish and frustration he felt being singled out for special lessons. "I survived in spite of that experience, and not because of it. But I still have a very difficult time with new words. I've realized that the words I know, I know from memory," and not from being able to sound them out.

He told of the ready identification he had with characters in the recently released movie, "Stanley & Iris," in which an illiterate man learns to read and write with the help of a former co-worker. He lauded the efforts of teachers who give their students the tools of literacy through caring and excellent instruction.

Yet all of teachers' best efforts can be for naught when parental support for reading is absent at home. Merrillyn Kloefhorn, a board member of the International Reading Association, followed Oveson's remarks with an oppressing array of statistics that show "how TV has become the major stumbling block to literacy in America (see accompanying box).

"Television is the prime educator in America today - it's the schools' primary competition for children's minds. Educators spend thousands of hours teaching children how to cope with the hard-core drugs that come into their lives but almost no time talking about how to control the `plug-in' drug of television. Children need to be taught how to control TV so it doesn't control them."

Kloefhorn said while TV has the potential to educate, most programs simply entertain without expanding children's knowledge or critical thinking skills. "Much of it is the intellectual equivalent of junk food," which is also a problem associated with watching too much television," she said. "We now have the least active and most lethargic group of children ever in America. In too many homes, the after-school routine consists of two things: turning on the TV and eating junk food."

She said 55 percent to 85 percent of all commercials promote snacks, candy, sugared cereal and junk food - most of which are aired during prime child-watching times.

As a national obsession, the importance of television has even surpassed that of some necessary household fixtures. "When 96 percent of homes in America have TV - a higher percentage than the number that have telephones or indoor toilets - there's a problem with priorities," Kloefhorn said.

Also during the morning session, local educator Mary Hausen received a "Leaders of Readers" $1,000 cash award from Family Circle and other sponsors on behalf of Volunteer Training Augmentation. The local affiliate of this national organization trains adult volunteers to teach other adults to read.



Time in front of the tube

- The average high school graduate will spend 11,000 hours in school and 22,000 hours watching TV

- By age 17, the average child views 350,000 TV commercials

- Children watch TV an average of 28 hours per week - 2 months per year

- By age 18, the average child has seen 18,000 people "killed" on TV

- TV is on from five to eight hours daily in 38 percent of U.S. homes, and more than 8 hours in 36 percent of homes