Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
PBS: Bigger than the Bird

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There's nothing like a pre-nap triangle of PB&J and a glass of milk on the couch with some old friends on Sesame Street. That's how I spent my afternoons after a hard day at kindergarten, but lately it seems too much to ask for our nation's kids.

These are difficult times, after all, and sacrifices must be made. Surely our kids can live without the extravagance of watching Big Bird and Snuffy wasting valuable airtime discussing their feelings. That's what parents are for, right? Don't tell me you've been falling down on the job. Next thing you know, you'll be using PBS as a babysitter while you try to get dinner going. No worries, though; the government is here to help.

For the second time in ten months, the Bush administration is proposing major budget cuts to public broadcasting. Last June, the House of Representatives voted to reject a $100 million cut after the American people reacted to the potential cuts with an outpouring of support for PBS. According to the Association of Public Television Stations, this administration now proposes to cut $53.5 million in fiscal year 2007, another $50 million in 2008, and to withhold funding completely for 2009.

Apparently, this administration knows better than anyone else what's best for American families, or they would have embraced the decision of the bi-partisan majority who supported public broadcasting last June. So what do they know that we don't?

Maybe it's not good for kids to have a safe haven on television. Perhaps we should start them early on a steady diet of CNN and Disney so they fully understand what life is about: violence and consumerism. It's probably in our best interest to get them good and angry, ready to fight for their right to brand-name goods and services. If only Nixon had succeeded in gutting PBS, our military recruiters wouldn't be in such a pickle right now.

Yes, the kids will go quietly (they'd rather watch SpongeBob than Caillou anyway). But what if I told you that entire communities will suffer the loss in ways that even public broadcasting's strongest advocates rarely discuss?

Stations around the country use the national PBS programming as the backbone of their operation, that's true. Still, each station is as unique as the community in which it is based. Unlike commercial stations, each local station has a staff whose sole mission is to use their programming and outreach resources to better their community. An individual can come to the station to volunteer or to voice concern, and know that their involvement makes a difference. The programming office is housed locally, so programming decisions are based on what people want locally -- not just what's popular in New York or L.A.

Most stations thrive by reaching out to other community organizations in strategic partnerships to give voice to those who need it. If our local stations go dark -- and without federal funding, it is likely they would -- there is no other local outlet for such conversation. It seems that an administration that values small government ought to be willing to invest in communities to allow them to help themselves. Our leaders are not only doing the public a great disservice by slashing funds, they are missing out on a huge opportunity to encourage the use of television as a tool to bring people together, strengthen families, and empower our children.

In addition to the broadcast, PBS provides many services for parents and teachers. The government should be thankful for services like the PBS TeacherSource website. This service puts thousands of lesson plans (geared toward curriculum standards) at the fingertips of America's overworked teachers. PBS Parents is another site loaded with child development information and expert advice. In addition, PBS has been a leader in literacy issues for years. Many local stations have partnered with organizations like Head Start to provide literacy workshops and emotion coaching for kids and their families.

A few years ago, the PBS slogan was "If we don't do it, who will?" The tagline was dropped when the History Channel and Discovery and TLC became commonplace on cable systems everywhere. It seemed that even PBS was unsure of what they could offer in the face of more commercial channels, but I think the tagline fits now better than ever. If the funding cuts go through and PBS loses its federal funding, no one will look out for local communities. There will be no voice for local concerns.

The Bush administration is hoping that if they keep proposing the cuts, eventually we will tire of fighting for PBS. But what's at stake here is not money. The battle is over what's left of childhood innocence. It's about empowering our families and communities. We are the mothers of this country, and if we don't fight for those values, who will?


Susi Elkins is a televison producer for a public broadcasting station in Michigan. She is also the mother of two young kids who enjoy watching TV most when mom is not grabbing their heads to shield their eyes from the dead bodies littering every commercial break. She can by contacted via e-mail at susielkins@yahoo.com.


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