Past Times

In the 1960s, N.C. students learned history via public TV

Thanks to the magic of television, Iola Parker taught U.S. history to thousands of North Carolina schoolchildren.
Thanks to the magic of television, Iola Parker taught U.S. history to thousands of North Carolina schoolchildren. UNC-CHAPEL HILL PHOTOGRAPHIC LABORATORY COLLECTION, NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES

New methods and tools for teaching come along every few years. In 1963, a “new media” pioneer brought classroom instruction to students across the state through the still new medium of public television.

Television stars, like movie stars, are often “discovered” in strange places. But a new breed of stars is being “found” in a very common place – the North Carolina public school classroom.

Miss Iola Parker, a veteran teacher of some 40 years, teaches the largest number of classes and students in U. S. History in the state of North Carolina.

She instructs approximately 7,000 pupils in 127 classes simultaneously via television; and yet her students have proven to do better work than the traditional classes of an ideal 35.

However, she claims no laurels for her task. “The classroom teacher is the teacher,” Miss Parker says. “Television is only a source. Teaching by TV is a product of team work; the studio teacher, the producer-director, and the classroom teacher must work together to produce the best possible course of study. Without the cooperation of all three, the project is a failure.”

“Television puts a lot of responsibility on the student, too,” she continued. “It teaches him to listen carefully, take notes rapidly, and absorb information quickly.”

A daily thirty-minute television program is not a simple task in itself. It requires a full day’s preparation in addition to rehearsal. But what exactly does an in-school teacher do after her “thirty minutes of work” are completed?

Miss Parker arrives at the WUNC-TV studios in Swain Hall on the University of North Carolina campus shortly after 8 a.m. She reviews her script and makes changes in it if an item has appeared in the news pertaining to an American personality. For instance, when Eleanor Roosevelt died recently, Miss Parker included a film summary of her life’s work in the next day’s program.

Before going on the air at 9 a.m. Miss Parker puts on her special TV makeup and “walks through” the show with director, Roger Koonce.

From 9 to 9:30, Miss Parker is a teacher, but her pupils are scattered throughout North Carolina in 127 different classrooms.

“The hardest part of teaching via television is to keep abreast of current events,” said Miss Parker. “We try to relate the past to the present as much as possible, and to do this, I have to do a great deal of reading.”

Miss Parker has an extensive library and subscribes to eight periodicals which she uses for source material. The State Department of Public Instruction provides a number of books for use in the course.

Files of pictures, slides, maps, “super” cards (titles which are superimposed over another picture on the screen), and “stick ups” (titles placed on a felt board so that Miss Parker doesn’t have to turn her back to her pupils to write on the blackboard) fill Miss Parker’s office. In addition, she has a complete file cabinet full of “40 years of teaching aids.”

In-school teaching via television in North Carolina began as an experiment in cooperation with the Ford Foundation. When the Ford Foundation grant had expired, the Department of Public Instruction took over the in-school television program.

Miss Parker attended the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina where she received her BA degree. A native of Rocky Mount, she taught high school there for 37 years. The N&O March 10, 1963

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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