For decades, we parents have had the comfort of knowing there is a cast of characters we can turn to on TV to help educate our children—our friends on “Sesame Street.” If the House of Representatives has its way, however, that may not be true much longer.
We refer to the resurrected move in Washington, D.C., to not only cut public television funding, but to eliminate altogether money for terrific children’s programs—the ones that have brought us such television teachers as Big Bird, Clifford, Caillou, Ord, Arthur and Mr. Rogers.
A House Appropriations subcommittee voted to cut almost $200 million in funding for public broadcasting next year. Further, in two years funding would be eliminated altogether for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was created by Congress in 1967 to help finance public television and underwrite children’s programming on PBS.
As we go to press, the full House is expected to approve the cuts as well.
PBS children’s shows have always been an important place for teaching great lessons—and not just the ABCs. They discuss feelings, thoughts, issues and relationships. And the solutions to the characters’ problems don’t involve buying a toy, candy or a fast food meal, because these shows run commercial-free. OK, mostly commercial free. We know they are brought to us by “Chuck E. Cheese’s, a proud supporter of PBS Kids,” but it still beats the onslaught of advertising that bombards our children on cable and broadcast television.
And the children who stand to lose the most are the low-income kids who need all the help they can get to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.
These cuts go way beyond the Bush Administration’s proposal, which asked Congress to continue funding PBS’ “Ready to Learn” programs, such as “Arthur” and “Sesame Street,” at the same level as this year—$23.4 million.
Despite denials from Republicans, who are leading the charge against PBS, we suspect these cuts go back to Buster.
His new show, “Postcards from Buster,” features Arthur’s loveable best friend traveling with his pilot dad and sending video postcards home to his friends. (It airs at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and again at 9 a.m. Sunday on Channel 11.)
Earlier this year, one of Buster’s visits was to a family with two moms. Some social critics thought that sent the wrong message about family values. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced PBS. Conservative groups were outraged, as were certain members of Congress.
Clearly, family values to some have nothing to do with who loves and respects children, but rather, who meets certain definitions of family. We suspect those who think meeting a lesbian family is an affront worthy of such severe retribution have not seen the show, which, according to the PBSkids.org Web site, strives to “build awareness and appreciation of the many cultures in America.”
These cuts are far from a done deal. Senators stepped in to stop former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attack on public television a decade ago; we expect them to do the same this time.
But we can’t take chances. So, write, call or e-mail your representatives and senators and let them know how you feel about quality, commercial-free, educational television for your kids.
If you are headed out on vacation, it’s OK to wait until you get back. This debate will be going on through the fall as Congress works out the new budget.
And while you’re writing, go ahead and write something else—a check. Send it to WTTW-Channel 11, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago, IL, 60625-4623. (Full disclosure: Chicago Parent makes a monthly appearance on “Chicago Tonight,” which airs at 7 p.m. each weeknight on Channel 11.)
These guys need all the help they can get. National figures show that just 3 percent of the support for public television comes from viewer contributions. That won’t be enough to keep Arthur in our lives if these budget cuts become reality.