In the first of the 2012 Presidential Debates, Mitt Romney said the following:
I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you [Jim Lehrer] too.
As it turns out PBS gets actually very little funding from the federal government (See this visual illustration of PBS federal funding). As Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted:
Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 4, 2012
While it would be great if there was more federal funding, the value of PBS and shows like Sesame Street are more than just equivalent to dollars. Levar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow, responded with the following:
“Educators across the country, as well as millions of children and adults know that the programming on PBS has been responsible for significant improvements in education, literacy, math, science and life skills for generations of our children…Defunding PBS directly punishes the less fortunate by removing this trusted and extraordinary educational resource available to all.”
-Levar Burton to TMZ
PBS matters to me because I was one of these “less fortunate [kids]” from a low-income immigrant family where my parents were learning English at the same time I was. When I look back on my education and toward TV shows that made me the reader, the writer, and the person I am today…PBS shines. What began with Sesame Street continued on to Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Square One, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Ghostwriter, and eventually Masterpiece Theatre and NOVA. We talk at times about how television can “rot” our brains, but the best TV opens doors for exploration and PBS is home to this kind of television. These shows carried me into the local library and expanded my love and understanding of music.
I know we’re in a different world now than from when I was younger. Education has expanded onto websites and books have gone digital. But the influence of PBS shows has expanded into digital horizons and I know from my younger cousins that it is still very much alive. Perhaps it doesn’t need federal dollars to keep on going, but having federal support shows understanding of PBS’ value, of what it provides to everyone regardless of social status and economic circumstances.
So, Mitt Romney – or any politician for that matter – before you “stop the subsidy to PBS,” maybe you should take a moment to think about the “other things” you’ll be stopping too.