Additional Thoughts About the PBS Situation

I actually had second thoughts from the beginning, about posting my last entry - the bit about the House of Representatives voting yes on a bill which effectively shuts down NPR and PBS. It's obviously a political issue, and those get...dicey. I write here about writing, about publishing, about science sometimes - but I'd rather steer clear of politics, in general. I don't feel like I can pull punches on the serious issues, though. And to me this bill, especially the PBS component, is serious. And writing related, in a way - because things which hurt literacy, hurt writing.

There's really no replacement for PBS. No one broadcast channel which combines education for young children, exposure to arts, classical music, history, great literature, and a bucketload of other things into one experience. In a way, I see PBS as being similar to public libraries or museums. Those are institutions of learning which we're happy to see the government support, in general, because of the value they provide to society. They offer opportunities for education. They offer chances to enrich one's life with new experiences. And they do this for everyone, generally offering services regardless of age, or race, or wealth, or other factors. We have a wonderful array of public libraries in the US. Even if you never use one, the opportunity is there.

PBS is very similar, I think. It offers a chance, broadcast over televisions (which most people have) with or without cable TV (which many people do not have) for education. PBS works hard for literacy. Its programming encourages exploration of other cultures, and looks at the world around us. And there really isn't another broadcast channel with that sort of mission. Nor do I think we'll see one suddenly rise up if PBS goes away. Because there really isn't an economic imperative to do so.

But then, there's no economic imperative for libraries, either. They're something we do because it helps encourage literacy and education for those who might otherwise not have so many opportunities in those things.

It's sort of easy, those of us with computers, internet, cable TV, cell phones, and other connections to the world, to look at PBS and ask "why bother?" For folks without those things, I think it's much easier to answer that question. Why bother? Because there isn't an alternative available. Remove Big Bird, Sid, Super Why, and the other characters from the air, and you've done critical damage to the education of the most vulnerable youth in the US. Remove Nova, and you lose access to science. Remove Masterpiece, and you lose access to great literature in video form. American Masters talks about great music. Nature talks about the natural world. Other programs out there explore cultures, ours and that of other nations.

This is a tool for education of our people that is probably irreplaceable.

I've been there. I grew up looking forward longingly to each new visit RIF made to my school. I've used the public library because I didn't have money for enough books to keep my voracious reading appetite sated. And I've watched PBS programming because it was a wonderful way to enlighten me and expand my world. Now, my kids watch PBS programming because I trust it to have value beyond keeping them busy for an hour. I watched those shows push my kids in learning their letters. How many four year olds do you know who can tell you the difference between omnivores, carnivores, and herbivores? Who can name every planet in order and talk about major features of that planet? Who know the entire set of simple machines, and how they operate, what they are used for?

Some can. My kids can, among them... And I watched PBS help my wife and I get them there.

It's 300 million dollars a year to fund PBS. To me, that seems a small, insignificant investment compared to the great public good they accomplish. I'm hoping the Senate has the courage to say no to this bill.