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Carey Bryson

Should PBS Receive Government Funding?

By November 6, 2012

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Happy election day!

Since the issue of government funding for PBS came up during the debates, I have been thinking about PBS children's programming and what it means to America's kids. I would like to look at this from a non-partisan perspective -- if that's possible. Every program the government funds should be evaluated with a cost versus benefit analysis as well as an ethical analysis as to whether or not it's appropriate for whatever reasons for government to be involved in the program at all. Especially in a time where the words "financial cliff" are regularly part of headlines, we had better do a thorough evaluation of how the government is spending and taking in money.

A sad fact we all know: the US is deeply in debt, and that's not good. Cutting funding for programs that are outdated, ineffective, or unnecessary and cleaning up the budget is an obvious way to begin. This process needs to be carefully carried out and well researched. PBS got thrown out there during a debate as a possible area to cut in the name of tightening our belts and dealing with the overspending. This was just an off the cuff example (and one that is a mere drop in the bucket as far as budget is concerned anyway), so there's no pressing need to make a big deal out of it. But, since they brought it up...

Here's a another fact: research has shown that PBS programming for preschoolers helps prepare kids for school. Yes, research can be debatable, but I'm regarding the research as reliable and factual, because I have considerable anecdotal evidence that backs it up.

I started out as a generally speaking "no TV" mom, or I thought I would be anyway. When my oldest was about one, I put on a Barney show. I didn't think she was really old enough to learn her letters yet, so I hadn't taught her any. But Barney did. Sitting on my lap after the show, she looked at the keyboard, said "O," and hit the "O" key. I was impressed

Since that time, I've used TV as a limited and supplemental resource for my kids' at-home preschool learning. I've found some of these educational shows to be extremely fun and effective at helping my kids learn, and I've observed the same in kids from many other families. Am I saying you should park your kid in front of the TV for preschool time everyday? No. Of course not. But, I am saying you can effectively use limited TV time to help kids learn in a way that is extremely meaningful both for teaching them facts like letters and numbers as well as teaching them critical thinking skills. I have found educational TV programs and movies to be a fabulous recourse for my kids.

Again, I would not park my kids in front of the TV and call it preschool, and research has also shown that too much TV is bad for kids whether it's educational or not. There's a happy medium there. Sadly though, for some children, PBS educational programming is the only preschool learning they get. I see this as an education issue, and as an issue of access to less commercial media for children. I think PBS is valuable for America's kids. Still, does that mean the government should fund it? Should the government really have it's hands in the television business?

To get a better understanding of the issue, I posed some of these questions to Lesli Rotenberg, Senior VP of Children's Media at PBS. She answered via email, and you can read my interview with Lesli Rotenberg here. It's no surprise that Lesli does not want PBS to lose funding. Would anyone expect the Senior VP of Children's Media at PBS to say, "Yeah we don't really need it, actually"? No. However, Lesli does provide some informative insight as to where that money is actually spent and why it's needed.

Lesli also points out concrete examples of what PBS children's programming accomplishes in this country, and how far and wide the reach is. Truly, funding for PBS is not a major economic issue, but only a small example of ways we could look at the budget and evaluate the efficacy of the money being spent. In the case of PBS programming for children, it needs to stay. It needs to remain free for America's kids, and it needs to remain less commercialized so kids have some shows they can watch without being bombarded with ads or with show-based products everywhere they look. That option needs to be available.

Should government be the "seed money" for that particular venture? That's really a question for experts in the field with access to all the financials to answer. Maybe there are other options -- I have an open mind. Either way, parents need to understand the importance of PBS programming for kids in America, so that if and when this does become a real and immediate issue, we are ready to ensure that it's handled in the right way and that valuable programming for low income children does not become a useless token sacrifice for political gain.

On that note, PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO! offer some great programming, they have focused the shows and based them on valuable research, and they have some fun specials coming up for kids. So this is just the first in the PBS series of posts on About.com Kids TV& Movies this week. Stay tuned for more info on what PBS programming is doing for kids around the country, and what's coming up for your kids...

(Photo PBS)

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