"Blow up your TV,
Throw away the paper,
Move to the country,
And build you a home.
Plant a little garden,
Eat a lot of peaches,
Try to find Jesus,
On your own."
-- From a song by John Prine
In the early 1970s, musician John Prine was singing about it. Today, many parents, teachers, and librarians are talking about it. Television.
Are Americans too glued to the tube? Kenai teacher Monica Heath says some people are. For the eighth year in a row, Heath is challenging her third grade class at Mountain View Elementary School to participate in "TV-Turnoff Week," which started Monday.
"It doesn't affect their grade, but I challenge my students to not watch any TV during this week," she said. "They fill out pledge cards, telling what they'll do instead of watching TV. If they do it for the entire week, I give them a certificate."
Heath is a member of the National TV-Turnoff Network, which hosts the annual turnoff week to "promote healthier lives and communities." Several Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers are participating, encouraging students to keep the tube turned off this week.
Since 1995, 24 million children and adults have participated in TV-Turnoff week.
"You know you're watching too much TV when you pick up the remote control to make a phone call," Dianne Cronin said. "I did that the other day, and I felt so silly. Luckily, no one else was home to see me do it."
The Soldotna resident and her daughters, Kelsey, 11, and Kristin, 9, are going to try a week with no TV.
"We do home school, and I heard about the TV-turnoff on the radio," Cronin said.
"Both girls feel confident they can do it for the whole week," she said. "It shows how little TV they normally watch."
The girls' Dad, Gary, feels differently about the challenge.
"I don't plan to stay off TV," he said. "I only watch on the weekends, and I really like my (NASCAR) races."
Kenai Community Library hosted a kick-off event Monday evening, and Mountain View Elementary School has a book fair and activity night on Friday.
Across the nation, thousands of community groups, such as libraries, schools and businesses, are pitching in to make TV-Turnoff Week inviting. But the heart of the effort is within families.
"Families interact more with each other when there's less TV," Dianne Cronin said. "Nowadays, people have a TV in every room."
The TV-Turnoff Network reports that children who watch hours of cartoons and sitcoms every day score lower on reading exams than children who watch less TV, or educational TV.
"In their writing assignments, all some kids can think of is a cartoon or movie," Heath said. "I think TV stifles their imagination. ... The TV-turnoff makes people aware of how much time they spend watching, and that there's a lot more to do."
Jennifer Jensen, a Soldotna mother of three, said her kids will have no problem keeping their TV silent for a week.
"Our family loves sports," she said. "But we play them more than we watch them. The only things we watch on TV are the finals, like the Stanley Cup and the baseball playoffs. ... We lead such a busy life that we don't have time for TV."
Jensen said her husband, Max, watches CNN news every morning.
"I think that's a habit in a lot of American homes," she said. "Max may decide not to give up his TV news."
There are mixed reactions to the concept of TV-turnoff. Fourth grade student Caleb Forbes doesn't like the idea of a week without TV.
"I won't get to watch my favorite shows," he said.
Caleb's sister, Rachelle, is in the sixth grade at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.
"Our teachers are challenging everyone to turn off their TVs," Rachelle said. "I like to ride bikes and read books. I'm sure we can do it. We'll play board games, go for walks, and visit our friends."
Caleb and Rachelle's mother, Sandy Forbes, has encouraged her children to participate in the turnoff week.
"We usually watch TV two or three nights a week, for maybe an hour or two," she said. "This will teach our kids how to entertain themselves, other than watching TV."
Soldotna librarian Terri Burdick said the turnoff should not be limited to televisions.
"Nowadays, it's not just TV. The Internet and computers are also vying for kids' attention," she said. "I think they need to turn off their computers for a week, as well."
Shannon Kohler, Soldotna mother of two boys, said the TV-turnoff is not for everyone.
"If TV is not a problem, then why turn it off? Some people just want to get the news, or an exercise program or learning channel," she said. "I don't see a problem with that."
Whether TV is a problem depends on how it is used, Kohler said. The turnoff week is for people who feel lost or bored without their sitcoms and cartoons, Kohler said, adding that there are positive aspects to television watching.
"TV helps my son and his Dad to have some bonding time," Kohler said. "My husband works a week-on, week-off schedule, and when he comes home, our son tells him how their favorite teams are doing. They discuss the football and basketball games on TV."
TV-turnoff week is an annual event promoted by the National TV-Turnoff Network, which says the benefit of participating is "giving ourselves the gift of time, quiet, friends, family, walks, books -- all the things we miss when we're plugged in to the tube."
Ann Marina is a free-lance writer who lives in Kenai.
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