Television is going to be a socialization machine -- people are going to learn how to act and react from it -- whether we want it or not, so some of this conditioning might as well be purposeful and well-intended. That brings us to the pitter-patter of "Footsteps," a new do-good series of 20 programs on "parenting" produced under mandate from HEW and premiering at 7:30 tonight on Channel 26.

The first program, "Queen for a Day," deals with the misleading way a 5-year-old might make a bid for domestic attention. a 20-minute dramatic sequence, some of it filmed in and around Georgetown, is followed by a brief "documentary" sequence illustrating anothe point, this time featuring not actors but real people and real children.

I know, I know -- kids are people, too. Whatever.

Future programs will confront such problems as helping children come to terms with the deaths of loved ones, allowing for trauma in children when perents divorce, and finding creative ways to watch television. Though produced by a "consortium" of experts under a $2.7-million federal grant, this "Sesame Street" for Mom and Dad generally aboids overtones of Big Brotherhood -- of the government telling us how we ought to behave in various situations -- and the predicaments depicted have recognizable validity.

What isn't needed is a pair of celebrith hosts -- Penny Marshall and husband, Rob Reiner, on the opner, both of them looking just awful -- to introduce the program and tack on a postscript. The crossover between commercial and public TV is becoming a stampede, and the kind of thinking that recruits such "guest stars" is what public television needs least.