Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Balance of Power

The Balance of Power

Spring 2014 Television
Ages: 10 - 16 yrs.
Rating: TV G

History comes to life in the town of Colonial Williamsburg. The concept of this historic area of southern Virginia is to offer visitors a chance to go back to colonial days to see, hear and experience what life was like in the 18th century. Costumed characters run shops and taverns so visitors can watch and interact with them at the market, the theater and in church as if they had stepped back in time. This is also the idea behind the innovative and interactive series, Colonial Williamsburg's Electronic Field Trip.

Seven times a year, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation offers a "trip" back through history via Public Television stations and educational channels. The programs now also stream live on the Internet along with a whole host of related activities and information. Two teen hosts introduce stories that illustrate and recreate important events, places and concepts in America's past. The tales are then acted out, sometimes including puppets, to make points, impart information, and include students and other viewers in the learning experience.

Two teen hosts introduce stories that illustrate and recreate historic moments, places and concepts. They also solicit questions via Twitter, the Internet and video from students across the country about the topic of the day. In The Balance of Power, which aired in 2013, the Foundation explored the concept of the three branches of government and the checks and balances that have been put in place to ensure no branch takes complete control. This was presented as a baseball game being played by the executive branch (presidents) and the legislative branch (Congress). Umpiring it all: The judicial branch, of course. Team members played in suits and ruffled shirts, while umpires wore robes, along with their baseball hats.

The scoring process is nothing if not unusual. John Adams was intentionally walked, but was tagged out when he tried to cross home plate, symbolic of how he was unable to get his justice appointments made. And Andrew Johnson had a tough time as a pitcher, thanks to the Reconstruction Era. Finally, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gets booed by fans for trying to push through judiciary reform as part of his New Deal legislation. The history may be complicated, but the baseball makes it fun.

As with all the Foundation programs, the story is played out in three acts, broken up by Q&A sessions in which students ask questions of the characters and an expert. The two hosts for this show, Caleb Kinchlow and Emma Browning, were excellent. Caleb, in particular, has a future in television, as he deftly kept the show moving with ease, even through minor technical glitches, such as garbled calls from kids. And this "field trip" was packed with information, from the broader concepts of the three branches of government, to more focused infobits, such as the Tenure of Office Act. Quick "fast facts" also helped clarify and add to the lesson. An instant poll asked kids which branch of government they'd most like to be part of.

Participating in these live events offers an enjoyable, entertaining and informative way to cover historic ground without the hassle of a bus ride, chaperones and hotel rooms, etc. The Foundation is to be commended for tackling live television, which is never an easy feat to pull off. Not only does it make the history lesson much easier and fun to learn, it gives kids a chance to get excited about being part of it all.

And even if you miss the live event, watching the hour-long "field trips" after the fact is equally valuable with all of the accompanying resources provided on the internet.

Ann Oldenburg   ©2014 Parents' Choice
Ann Oldenburg, lecturer and interim director of the journalism program at Georgetown University, writes about television, food, workplace issues and other pop culture topics. A University of Florida Gator with a degree in journalism, she began her career at The Washington Post and spent more than two decades with USA TODAY. She and her husband have three sons and live in McLean, Virginia.

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