Environment for Education
Defense Civil Preparedness Agency
Shuffling feet and mischievous laughter are heard as three rocks sail through the glass window of an inner-city school. The following morning, a frustrated teacher tries to review American history with her students, only to find them distracted by traffic noises now audible through the broken window. Sweeping up glass shards, the janitor glumly remarks it is the third such incident in a month's time. The camera cuts to a well-dressed school administrator who will serve as a continuing voice of authority throughout the film. He explains that this opening scene to Environment for Education depicts the two greatest concerns of principals across The United States. They are physical damage to the school building and unwanted noise distractions of any type. It must first be asked why The Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (D.C.P.A.), the government entity then tasked with readying Americans to withstand an enemy nuclear attack, was prioritizing motion pictures about school vandalism. The answer appears to be two-fold. Unlike its more conservative predecessor agencies, The D.C.P.A. vastly expanded what would generally be considered civil defense. By 1973, the release year for this film, D.C.P.A. officials were using media and published works to present environmental pollution, human ignorance to natural disasters, and technological failures as risks to the populace equal to a nuclear exchange. (1) On a more practical level, Environment for Education explains that designing new education facilities with the intention of preventing vandalism and noise, also has the added benefit of creating protection from fallout radiation and riotous civil disturbances.
Protection against fallout radiation was not the only concern for architects the planning The Dr. Charles R. Drew Junior High in Detroit, Michigan. Blueprints for the school included deterrents to damage caused by civil disturbances. Lewis Goldstein, staff architect for the Detroit Board of Education, explains that immediately after the school opened, a riot erupted when a substitute teacher was fired. Over 100 students began a demonstration that damaged windows, lockers, and the front entrance to the school. Goldstien notes that on a traditional building, repair costs would have exceeded $100,000.00 but with Plexiglass windows and solid exterior facade, total damages were under $10,000.00. A school bell rings and Goldstien stands with some students and follows them into the building as the film wraps up. Environment for Education walks an interesting line by depicting progressive learning techniques through unconventional designs in school buildings, while at the same time remaining staunchly conservative in its views about order and authority. A conservative element is most evident during the rock concert scene which makes all attendees appear as out-of-control, drug-fueled counter-culture heathens. This wild depiction is backed up by the proper Harvard professor using his research to explain how rock concerts are among the most harmful examples of noise pollution. Although the D.C.P.A. was taking a more liberal and environmental approach to civil defense, it is important to remember that agency was created, and supported by, the conservative Nixon presidential administration. Political atmospheres aside, the film would enjoy both popularity and longevity. Environment for Education could be rented or purchased from government publications throughout the 1970's.
1. Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. Foresight: Defense Civil Preparedness Agency Annual Report. Feb. 8, 1974. 23-24