Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

LeVar Burton: What Romney doesn't get about PBS

By LeVar Burton and Mark Wolfe, Special to CNN
October 8, 2012 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
PBS offers shows that are educational, free, and free of hard-sell commercials, write LeVar Burton and Mark Wolfe.
PBS offers shows that are educational, free, and free of hard-sell commercials, write LeVar Burton and Mark Wolfe.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LeVar Burton, Mark Wolfe: Romney has said he would defund PBS. Time to speak up
  • They say PBS helps build literacy, particularly in disadvantaged kids
  • They say from Bert and Ernie to "Reading Rainbow" to NOVA, PBS provides educational tools
  • Writers: Funding cuts would hurt local stations, jobs; this shows misplaced priorities

Editor's note: LeVar Burton is an actor and education advocate and was the longtime host of "Reading Rainbow" on PBS. He is a co-founder, with Mark Wolfe,of RRKidz, which creates children's educational products and is the worldwide license holder to the Reading Rainbow brand.

(CNN) -- Last week, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that if he were elected president, he would stop funding the Public Broadcasting System.

As the stewards of the Reading Rainbow brand, as parents, as products of families that relied on PBS to provide educational support, we can't stay silent about this. It is an attack not just on PBS, but on America's children. LeVar Burton has spent most of his life as an education advocate, hosting PBS's "Reading Rainbow" for 26 years, testifying before Congress on the importance of education and of public broadcasting, and as a national speaker, promoting literacy. And Mark Wolfe, who was practically raised in Julia Child's TV kitchen (his parents managed publicity for local PBS stations), grew up with Mr. Rogers as a family friend.

Mark Wolfe and LeVar Burton
Mark Wolfe and LeVar Burton

Mr. Rogers, who so eloquently defended PBS against an earlier threat to its funding, can no longer speak out, but we can.

Opinion: Will Big Bird be downsized?

How many of our children learned letters from Bert and Ernie before they ever went to preschool? How many could count because of The Count? How many of our new scientists were introduced to their future profession by Bill Nye? And how many of you discovered a love of books through "Reading Rainbow"? PBS offers kids television shows that are free -- and especially free of hard-sell commercials and corporate points of view. PBS educates our children.

Nearly every day LeVar is approached by parents, teachers and adults who grew up watching PBS, telling him how much the programs they watched benefited them and their students. Studies show that PBS has been responsible for improvements in early, elementary, middle and even high school education. PBS represents 0.00012% of our nation's budget. And while this resource benefits kids across all economic circumstances, it has even greater impact on the disadvantaged. Yet it has been made a political issue.

Burton 'outraged' over Romney PBS remark
A war on Big Bird?
LeVar Burton: 'Rainbow' fans 'legion'
Santorum: I've voted to kill Big Bird

After Romney's attack, the CEO of PBS, Paula Kerger, commented that "with the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me. We're America's biggest classroom. We touch children across the country in every home. Whether you have books in your home or computer or not, almost everyone has a television set."

Mitt Romney said, in last week's debate: "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. ... I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it."

Opinion: Defund public broadcasting and set it free

This is telling in that while he suggests unspecified litmus tests for funding, he begins by saying PBS has already failed. We wonder what defines "critical" to Mr. Romney. Free educational tools perhaps? PBS is a leading video resource for high schools, offering older kids exceptional age-appropriate programming, such as "NOVA" and Ken Burns historical documentaries; it supplies 20,000 digital tools, such as in-depth teacher lesson plans, for students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade; half a million teachers rely on the PBS educational resource "Learning Media."

What most people don't realize is that if federal funding for PBS were cut, much of the loss would be on the local level. The vast majority of taxpayer funds for PBS ($1.35 per person per year) goes to local stations, many of which serve rural areas, where losing funding would mean stations going dark. We remind Mr. Romney that when small businesses go out of business, not only are their products no longer available to the public, people lose their jobs. Where is the gain in saving the $1.35 a year? We see only loss.

Big Bird stays up to pay a visit to 'SNL'

Well? We as a nation must decide where our priorities are. Is education a priority? Are our children our priority? Are we going to support those priorities or just pay lip service to them? If these are our critical priorities, then we must support efforts like PBS and we must speak out when our children are used as political tools.

What Mitt Romney chooses to ignore or cannot see is that PBS represents the delivery on America's promise to itself: a promise to provide all children, rich or poor, black or white, with quality educational opportunities. This is an ongoing struggle. Schools are underfunded. Teachers are undervalued. And now PBS is under attack by a candidate who wants to lead our country .

Make your own decision about how you feel about Romney's statements against PBS, and act.

But you don't have to take our word for it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LeVar Burton and Mark Wolfe.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT