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
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT