A lot of jokes have come up since Wednesday's fist presidential debate in which Mitt Romney said that as much as he likes Big Bird, he would cut funding for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Facebook is full of pictures of angry Muppets, comedians are laughing about Sesame Street's revenge, etc. To me it is no joke.
I learned how to read by watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company. I was the target audience, an urban lower-class dweller whose parents couldn't afford preschool. Sesame Street was designed to look like my neighborhood instead of Mayberry. I felt comfortable there and on days when I didn't have anyone taking care of me, I didn't feel alone. It was an important connection for me with real people, as well as imagination-concocted ones, because my parents were either working too much or too tired to read to me or spend quality time with me. These days even the best-intended parents, and their kids, can identify with that.
Today I don't have television broadcasting in my house because I am in a rural area (a whole separate issue of government funding for public benefit), but when I am able to access and control a TV, I watch PBS frequently. I know that programs I watch will have their funders clearly stated, that most programs will be scientifically accurate and educational, and that bias will be more limited than it is on other channels.
It's up to us what we spend our tax money on. Such a budget change would have to be approved by Congress, but Romney is telling us what he will push for as president if he is elected. PBS is not a God-given right like some other issues in this election. But I think people who agree with Romney think PBS is a luxury or some frivolous thing we don't need because we have the Internet now.
PBS is educational access for people with no other options, no transportation to libraries and no expensive Internet access. When you hear about iPhones and websites all over the media every day, it's easy to think everyone has them, but millions are still offline completely. And who are the groups most at risk for not having access to information online? Surprise! Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minorities (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/internet-access-and-the-new-divide.html?pagewanted=all).
I don't know all of the political and funding issues of PBS. I do know that current funding for PBS is about one-tenth or one percent of the current budget and thus would not make a dent in our economic crisis. That's the entire PBS budget - not just the subsidies Romney wants to cut. So it won't help boost the budget; it will only hurt education in this country. Romney has also sworn to cut subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, etc. (http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2012/1004/Big-Bird-fired-Cut-wouldn-t-end-PBS-or-balance-budget.-video), still a tiny fraction of our spending, but a big and painful cut to those Americans who need and benefit the most from them.
In my household, this would be like addressing my debt and spending problems by swearing off shoelaces. Yes, it would reduce the amount of money I spend on shoelaces, but it would be an unnoticeable financial benefit. The thing is, when you need shoelaces, you really need them. There really is no substitute for them, unless you are wealthy enough to purchase fancy shoes with Velcro closures or the like.