On May 1, 1969 Fred Rogers, the soft-spoken sweater-wearing host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, made a statement to the Senate about funding for PBS. When Senator John Pastore asked Rogers about the programming that would be funded, Rogers responded, in part,
This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.
That day, Rogers was asking the Senate for $20 million for PBS, a station that we’re all probably familiar with. It was the home of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as well as other popular children’s programming such as Sesame Street, Barney and Friends, The Magic School Bus, Arthur, The Electric Company, and my personal favorite Wishbone. Countless other shows have become beloved parts of children’s daily television since. What would break Mr. Rogers’ heart is that a recent budget proposal from the current administration is proposing to cut all of that, even though 200 million people watch PBS per year.
In a press release President and CEO Paula Kerger said today,
PBS and our nearly 350 member stations, along with our viewers, continue to remind Congress of our strong support among Republican and Democratic voters, in rural and urban areas across every region of the country. We have always had support from both parties in Congress, and will again make clear what the public receives in return for federal funding for public broadcasting. The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse.
$1.35 per citizen per year. That’s not even a cup of coffee. That’s barely a pack of cheap gum. For just 135 pennies a year, which you probably have floating around your house or between the car seats, we not only get school readiness but also time for family: 37% of parents say they prefer watching PBS KIDS to other stations such as Cartoon Network and in fact many parents, especially those in low-income homes, say that PBS KIDS is “the most trusted and safe place for children to watch television.” Three-quarters say their children exhibit “more positive behavior” after watching programming on PBS. And that’s just children’s programming. I myself am one of the 1.8 million educators who have used PBS resources, which are free for ALL USAmericans, as a teaching tool in nearly all of my classes. As a viewer, I still have Arthur’s library card song stuck in my head and have Wishbone and Levar Burton (from Reading Rainbow) to thank for my love and knowledge of literature; as I got older, I watched Bob Ross paint his happy trees with my grandmother and laughed every time he “beat the devil” out of his brush while trying to clean it. Perhaps 45 should have watched those wonderful shows, especially considering that 83% of voters, including 70% of those who voted for him, want Congress to find something else to cut. (See the PBS website for these exact facts and figures and more.)
I will never complain about having $1.35 (as opposed $308, if MIT is correct in their estimate of a $38 billion wall) of my tax dollars go to fund amazing, educational, and entertaining television like PBS or other arts and culture supporters that provide us with what I consider to be the soul of our nation. Without shows that help our children learn, without art that helps their minds expand and their hearts grow, our nation will wither and become cold and hard. I must say, it seems like we’re already close to that when we’d rather build walls than keep Big Bird alive and well. But as ever, Mr. Rogers has something positive and poignant to keep in mind, “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to somebody else.” Let’s say yes to helping keep these resources going and building bridges between us, loving each other just the way we are.