By Tim Carpenter Journal-World Writer
Lawrence Kansas (4-5-99)
Television broadcaster Bill Kurtis recalled Monday the day he walked into a Chicago elementary school and was swallowed by chaos.
He said the teacher was in so far over her head that she couldn't get the students' attention long enough to discipline them.
Kurtis, a native of Independence, Kan., and a Kansas University journalism graduate, turned to a piece of hardware that made him a giant in the documentary industry. He flipped on a TV. The students fell silent and watched a segment of "The New Explorers," a program about the adventures of cutting-edge scientists that Kurtis moderates on the A&E network.
"They watched quietly and then, afterward, they started asking questions," Kurtis told about 50 people at a meeting of the KU chapter of the Sigma Xi scientific society on campus.
Kurtis said the students' response caused him to ask questions about the education of children. Could television be used to improve science curriculum in the nation's elementary schools?
Kurtis, based in Chicago, was awarded $4 million by the state of Illinois to find out. With a 10-member staff, he created Electronic Long Distance Learning Network, or Eld!n for short. The idea was to merge the latest electronic technology with the old art of storytelling to chart a different path for learning.
Kurtis' outfit has now tested its new educational science curriculum in 30 schools.
"Recent developments in technology -- computers, CD-ROMs, the Internet, satellite communication -- have enabled science educators to bring the true excitement of scientific research and communication to students like never before," Kurtis said.
"Through these means we can truly inspire the next generation of 'new explorers' and pave the way for the true scientific discovery of the next century."
Kurtis also lent his unmistakable voice to the scientific debate on global warming, which some believe has been caused by burning fossil fuels to the point that the atmosphere's chemistry has changed and trapped greenhouse gases.
He recently reviewed raw tape for a new program on global warming. The clips were of shrinking glaciers in Alaska. It convinced him that the entire icy wilderness was sitting on a hot seat.
"We got scared down to our toes," he said. "Alaska is melting."
Over the past 30 years, he said, the average temperature in Alaska has climbed 5 degrees. He said the situation was so grave it was possible that within 50 years there could be no glaciers in Glacier National Park.
"We are making significant changes in our climate."