Why PBS matters.

by , under Mom, Pirate, politics

I might have addressed this issue before, the last time a poitician suggested that funding PBS was a was of tax dollars. But it’s worth repeating.

Last night during the first Presidential debate, Mitt Romney said that he would defund PBS. That while he liked Big Bird and even Jim Lehrer (the debate’s moderator), he would fire them. Twitter exploded in a flurry of don’t fire Big Bird tweets, and a lot of people pointed out the ridiculousness of telling the debate moderator you’d fire him in the middle of the debate…

Neil Degrasse Tyson (my favorite badass of the science world) had this to say:

And after being criticized for RTing something pro PBS in a direct message, I tweeted this:

I do believe that regardless of your political affiliation, you should support Public Broadcasting. For a myriad of reasons. The biggest reason being that it is the only free children’s education programming that focuses on pre-literacy and early literacy on television. In fact, I think it’s the only channel that offers early literacy programming (meaning a show that has children read words- on PBS they have “Super Why” and “Word World.” I can’t think of any by Nickelodeon or Disney. You can correct me if I’m wrong)

I got a flurry of responses from people who disagreed with me. And all the arguments seemed to center around a few things.

One, if only 15% of federal dollars go to PBS, so why shouldn’t we cut it? Sesame Street is actually almost entirely funded by donations from corporations (and yes, viewers like you) as well as sales from DVDs, concerts and merchandise. But that’s Sesame Street, with decades of clout built up with families. Newer programs, and local programs don’t have that luxury. If you cut that funding, they won’t be able to produce their shows.

Two, parents shouldn’t rely on television to teach their children. Some people assumed that I don’t actually sit down and teach my kids since I believe in PBS. Which is funny, since I’m a stay at home mom and stayed home to help support the kidlet’s education. For me, PBS supports the work that I do with my children. I can sit and read with them, and sing songs… but at some point in time, parents become white noise. As many parents can attest, you can say the most brilliant things- but kids will listen to all of it comes from a puppet or a teacher.

I’m extraordinarily lucky that I’m in the position to have the time to help my kids like I do. The Oldest Kidlet goes to school with a lot of kids that have parents who both work, some of whom work multiple jobs. Not because their parents want to work, because they have to work. They’re watched by older relatives who spend time playing with them, and aren’t focused on education. For some of these kids, educational programming is the ONLY support they get for what they learned in school.

While the country pushes forward with preschool as being necessary for development, it’s still something that’s out of reach for many families. It’s easy to say that all these parents are lazy- but you don’t know what their circumstances are, and most of you don’t understand the struggles of low-income families. So stop assuming, please. (And certainly, if anyone had looked at my blog/Twitter stream for a minute, they would have realized how involved I am in my boys’ education)

The third argument I saw suggested was that kids could just go to libraries. Which would be great if libraries weren’t cutting back on staffs, closing locations because of shortfalls in local, county and state budgets. Also, libraries can’t really help with pre-literacy skills in the same way.

And beyond children’s programming, PBS offers a lot. They’re one of the few channels that still offer all-ages nature programs. A lot of the channels that used to have nature programs have focused on reality series. Not to mention that your local PBS stations have their own programming. Discussing local history, local politics.

I grew up on PBS. My mom taught me letters and shapes- and I was an early reader. I loved Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, The Electric Company, and as I grew up I got into Wishbone (okay, it was meant for kids, but as a teen I adored it). I watched NOVA. I knew all about Bob Ross’ happy little trees. When my children were born, they began watching reruns of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and now watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Television can support what you teach your children- as well as show them that the universe around them is a vast and exciting place.

I grew up watching a lot of regular TV shows, too. But PBS is one of the dearest things to me. (And really, let’s not try to take away my Sherlock, shall we?)

You can argue that PBS pushes an agenda. It does. It’s an agenda that education, community, and the arts matter to the future of our country. Shocking, I know. If you think that it’s an agenda that goes against your political party’s stance, perhaps you should ask yourself why they feel a small percentage of a budget supporting those ideas is a threat?

For what it’s worth, here’s what Sesame Workshop had to say about the debate last night:

Sesame Street has been a proud partner of PBS for 43 years, and is dependent on PBS to distribute our commercial-free educational program to all children in the US. Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization. We do not comment on campaigns, but we’re happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird.

And in the end… you don’t have to take my word for it.

If you have some thoughts, please comment! If you disagree with me, comment too. Just keep it civil.

  • Agreed! One day I hope to get a call from a
    grandchild (if I’m so lucky) to hear about something Big Bird taught
    him/her. Or Abby, Cookie Monster, Word Girl, or any of the countless
    other truly educational characters/people from PBS, some of which
    absolutely shaped my own childhood. Mostly commercial free, by the way,
    and I still cherish the whole “Sesame Street” has been brought to you by
    [insert corporation here]. Did we forget that kids are people, too? The
    most important ones at that.

  • If we don’t start our children off right, our future is doomed. (I love the brought to you by statement, too. “And viewers like you!”)

    I see how much my children still light up hearing the song from Sesame Street, and know how much Big Bird or Cookie Monster mean to them. As they beg me to read The Monster at the End of This Book for the millionth time. (I lit up when watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood because they had a trip to a crayon facctory- and that segment was one of the my favorite films from Mr. Rogers!!)