Why We Need Public Television & Big Bird

by Yesha Callahan

Last night during the first of three presidential debates, Mitt Romney decided to throw public television and Big Bird under the bus. Sure he says he watched public television, but he doesn’t believe it should be funded by the government. But last night wasn’t the first time Romney has attacked public television. Earlier this year in Des Moines, Iowa, Romney expressed his sentiments about wasteful government spending.

“Maybe Big Bird is going to have to have advertisers,” Romney said. Not only does Romney want to kill off Big Bird, but he also has proposed eliminating all federal funding for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. “They all get money from government,” Romney said. “They are going to have to stand on their own.”

For the record, the United States funds $450 million, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the $3 trillion the U.S has spent so far this year. Want to know how much of that money gets to Big Bird and his crew? Not much. Via the “Sesame Street” website, 93 percent of their costs are covered by trademark licensing and corporate sponsors.

Generations of children and families have grown up on public television. I doubt anyone can say they’ve never watched an episode of “Sesame Street,” “Bob Ross” (and his magical Afro calmly painting away) or an episode of “Nature.” If not for PBS, would we even have Morgan Freeman? He got his start on the “The Electric Company.” If you take a look at the line up on PBS’ website, there’s something for everyone. Filmmaker Ken Burns wrote an opinion editorial last year for The Washington Post in support of public television and its impact:

“In the midst of the Great Depression, our government managed to fund some of the most enduring and memorable documentaries, photographs, art and dramatic plays this country has ever produced. Our need for such cultured and civilizing influences is no less urgent now…. With minimal funding, PBS manages to produce essential (commercial-free) children’s programming as well as the best science and nature, arts and performance, and public affairs and history programming on the dial — often a stark contrast to superficial, repetitive and mind-numbing programming elsewhere. PBS supplements the schedules of hundreds of other channels. It produces ‘classrooms of the air’ that help stitch together statewide educational activities and helps create cradle-to-grave continuing education services that are particularly appreciated in rural states. Alaska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, West Virginia are among the states that depend on PBS shows daily, belying the canard that this is just programming for the rich and bi-coastal.”

The U.S. is in need not only of health care reform, but also education reform, and PBS has spearheaded education in children and adults for decades. A study entitled G Is for Growing showed that children who watched “Sesame Street” in preschool spend more time reading for fun in high school, and they obtain higher grades in English, math and science. Another study conducted by the Education Development Center showed preschool children who participated in a curriculum incorporating PBS KIDS video and games into classroom instruction were better prepared for kindergarten than those who didn’t.

By the time I was 3 years old, thanks in part to “Sesame Street,” I was reading books on my own. Every day, I looked forward to shows like “The Electric Company” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” and as an adult I still tune in for “Nature,” “Antique Roadshow” and “Newshour.” In my opinion, public television is one of the best forms of free education that exists in our “free” world. Unlike the superficial shows on network and cable TV, public television provides an array of educational options. What Romney and so many other politicians fail to realize is that in order for the U.S. to prove itself to be a leader and prepare for its future, the last thing that needs to be cut is access to educational programming. But then again, Romney has already spoken of his disdain for the 47 percent. Apparently he thinks Big Bird and his crew are among that population.

  • Laugh

    He basically fired the host and PBS at the debates. This fool is dangerous! He only cares about the extremely rich and looks down at all others. He’s said it himself it’s not his job to worry bout “those people”. He’s so flippant he doesn’t even care how he would come across firing big bird. The elderly, women, and middle class better pay attention. This man will say ANYTHING, he has no shame and no substance. He will throw you aside as soon as possible, ask anyone who experienced this pioneer of corporate raiding.

  • Pseudonym

    OMG…WHY is this everyone’s main take-home message from last nite’s debate? If I see one more photo of Big Bird…

  • Pseudonym

    BUT “The Electric Company” is an amazing show! I have no kids and watch it sometimes. I plan to buy the DVDs of the shows from the 70s and now when I have kids of my own.

  • Erin

    PBS and it’s programming definitely helped mold my childhood with it’s positive and child friend programming, that inspired learning. From Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, Author, Lambchops… etc. I think from last nights debate, people were the most outraged from Romney saying he would cut their funding. Like you stated, the government doesn’t give them that much money.

  • Pseudonym

    Wow! A [minus one] rating? People love Big Bird b/c he educates and tie “Sesame Street” to public education. Last night, in the debate about education, Romney made the declaration that since he’s been in office Massachusetts schools have been ranked #1 in the country (when that title has actually belonged to Maryland for the past FOUR YEARS IN A ROW) and I have not seen ONE article on that, but I’ve seen 500 memes and articles about Sesame Street?


    [Source: http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/NR/rdonlyres/FCB60C1D-6CC2-4270-BDAA-153D67247324/31501/MSDE_Superlatives_2011_2012_022012_.pdf

  • Pseudonym

    Here’s the official report, if anyone’s interested: http://www.edweek.org/media/qualitycounts2012_release.pdf

    (Can you tell how much this BLATANT lie is KILLING ME?!!!! hahaha!) (and I’m at [minus three!])

  • Pseudonym

    Dawn: then what’s the point of the comments section if I cannot comment? and- don’t worry- I have spread that information FAR AND WIDE!!!! I’ve got it covered within my small facebook circle- just thought you guys would like to know. Thought since we seem to be able to debate about everything else, I could say, “I, personally, seemed to have missed why out of the 1.5 hours of dialogue, ‘Sesame Street’ is getting the most press time.” I mean, no one minded my opinion on Chris Brown and Rihanna, why would you want to silence me on the issue of education that actually DOES affect most people in the US in their daily lives?

    Just saying…maybe b/c when Romney declared Massachusetts had the best schools in the country, I wondered if it was true (and was expecting to look in up and find out that it was- they’ve got a few amaaaazing private schools in that sate). So, it was quite sobering to find that it was NOT true and know that so many people will be impressed with Romney’s outlook and approach to education b/c they believe that the state’s school’s were ranked #1 in the country while he was there and that is NOT true. I even posted that source to some of my facebook people who were posting that they were Obama supporters possibly swaying towards Romney b/c he made great points about how he got results in Massachusetts education system.

    Instead of telling me to write an article about it on my own site (which is a HORRIBLE counterargument and makes no point for me to consider the author’s point of view), you should just tell me why so much of the world placed so much emphasis on the PBS issue? That would have made for a better and more productive discussion than your response. I’m open to the idea that I’m missing something, just as I hope that all these people screaming about saving Big Bird are open to considering that maybe blowing Romney’s “Massachusetts has the best schools” lie is more pressing. That was not a rhetorical question. The author is not alone. Why is EVERYONE so focused on “Sesame Street?”

  • Laugh

    Well let me help you out with that research. EVERYTHING Robme said was a lie!

    “Why is EVERYONE so focused on “Sesame Street?”

    Because the gloves come OFF once you mess with Big Bird!

    He basically stomped on fond memories of millions of people’s childhood. Do some research on what happened in a room full of 30+ year old tech men when Lavar Burton recently relaunched Reading Rainbow. He brought the woman who sings “Butterfly in the Sky” to sing and a room full of grown men all joined in and sang together with tears running down their face. There are some things no matter how ridiculous it sounds to some is very dear to others. If this is what puts the nail in his coffin so be it.

  • Pseudonym


    Thank you! That’s all I had to hear. I looooooooved “Sesame Street” growing up, but- honestly- did not realize it was that.big.of.a.DEAL!!!! hahaha

    I guess I underestimated the love for Big Bird.

    He’s got people.
    For SURE!!!!!

    (See how easy that was, Dawn?)

  • Child, Please

    “Why is EVERYONE so focused on “Sesame Street?”” –> with the five or so comments you’ve made on this, don’t you realize you’re only adding to it. To answer your question, Seasme Street is a staple not just in popular culture, but for helping children learn basic concepts that adults as they’ve gotten older have gone away from, such as sharing, counting (yes, counting; people all of a sudden are mathematicians and accountants with the economy, but don’t know how to manage their own funds), manners and things that most ascribe to a humble, kind person. I’m more flabbergasted people aren’t upset with the inaccurate claims Romney mad about the subject at hand. Ultimately, even more to some, folks feel that was a way of telling how he really feels about education. Most watch PBS and identify it with education and learning enhancement resources; it’s showed in my siblings classrooms to help them learn certain concepts. For some it leaves them wondering why in the same breath Romney would praise his state for it’s education standards/achievements would he then turn around and say he’d cut off funding to a network that works to achieve what he did for his own state. So now, I have to ask, do you not like “Sesame Street” or are you more upset that it’s the only PBS show being singled out or are you mad “The Electric Company” (which you seem so fond of) didn’t get it’s just deserts in tonight’s debate? From reading your comments, it seems you agree with the author of this post, but are just finding something to argue about.

  • jourdan

    Now, of course it’s not life threatening. I think people are more outraged that Romney wants to cut something that’s barely even affects our deficit. I’m a 90s kid and Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, & Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood ALL taught me to love to learn.I realize that now that there are many other programs that do the same thing, just not on PBS. The fact of the matter is, Romney thinks he’s doing us all a big favor by cutting this network, but I don’t believe that’s going to even make a dent in the kind of debt we’re in

  • ?!?

    They probably think Sesame Street is too liberal lol.

  • The Taker

    Forget a Big Bird (whom I love very much), WHAT ABOUT ELMO!!!!! Ninja you can’t get rid of Elmo and Dorothy, DA HELL!!! My baby niece just arrived, I want for her to get the chance to experience the educational magic that is Sesame Street. I will weep for all of humanity if this fool is elected.

  • CurlyBunnie

    Sunny days chasing the clouds away…..come on, you know the words!
    Even though I haven’t watched SS in AGES, I never forgot the words. Big Bird and the crew were family and hold the fondest of memories. I was outraged when “Robme” {good one, Laugh!} said he would cut gov’t spending on PBS. Didn’t know about his blatant lies re the MA school system, but that just proves this man will say anything to get elected. My friend says Facebook is the devil, but no. Robme is the devil.

  • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

    Actually I would like PBS taxpayer funding to be cutoff. PBS’ stated mandate was to give voice to those who didn’t have a voice in the mainstream. They have failed horribly at this.

    I see no reason why my tax dollars should fund lily-White programming like, Antiques Roadshow, Masterpiece Theater, America’s Test Kitchen, Downton Abbey and all the other amazingly non-diverse programming at PBS. If I want to see British programming then I’ll order up cable and watch the BBC. And The News Hour is a joke. It has more corporate sponsors than network news.

    I’m not a Romney supporter but on this I agree with him.

  • Pseudonym

    ????!!!! Why would I move to Massachusetts when the schools aren’t #1 in the country as Romney claimed? Wouldn’t it make better sense for me to move to Maryland, since that is actually the state whose schools have been ranked #1 four years in a row?

    …but I now see what you did there and why you were kinda mean when you addressed me:

    you skimmed, misread what I wrote, and thought that I was saying that Romney’s awesome and I want him to be president b/c Massachusetts schools are #1…but what I was ACTUALLY saying is that Romney flat out LIED about how great of an impact he has had on Massachusetts education and focusing on that would shut him down stronger than his feelings about Big Bird. Also, I was more of an Ernie fan, so I didn’t realize people were that gaga over BB (though I still question the priority and emphasis placed on that over stating facts about Romney’s budget or his claims about school systems). I’m not voting for Romney and never came close to saying I want him to be president. You just misread and attacked and then continued to misread and misinterpret and not make sense. …but I was able to put it together what just happened once you told me to move to Massachusetts and implied I was pro-Romney.

    The power of reading.

    I wasn’t angry. I’m just annoyed that BB is sparking more outrage than piss poor schools. To gloss over his lies about being great for education to focus on Big Bird is probably less productive when it comes to catching swing voters and persuading them to vote for Obama.

    So, we’re on the same team when it comes to the election, seems. I’m just more pro-”get swing voters by clearing up lies and focusing on primary issues” rather than pro-”reinforce those already on Team Obama by focusing on Big Bird.”
    No hard feelings, just re-read next time before you go so hard on someone in the Comments section.

  • Mademoiselle

    I support you on this sentiment Pseudonym. Had the man not mentioned Big Bird, people probably would’ve glossed over his aim to cut PBS funding. I haven’t even seen the whole debate yet, but I’m sick of the Big Bird rhetoric as well. The point is Romney plans to pay for his tax cuts by punishing anyone who relies on public services, including the people who watch PBS kids shows because they can’t afford to pay for Boomerang or Sprout.

  • Pseudonym

    “I’m more flabbergasted people aren’t upset with the inaccurate claims Romney mad about the subject at hand. Ultimately, even more to some, folks feel that was a way of telling how he really feels about education.”

    THAT was exactly my point. I’m flabbergasted that people aren’t upset and emphasizing the inaccurate claims made about the subject at hand. I just found it…odd. Like I said, one the spectrum, didn’t see it as that major. I don’t understand all this disagreement from Clutch people b/c I think better school systems are more important than Sesame Street/pop culture.

    And to answer your question: I’d be even more confused if everyone was outraged about “The Electric Company” b/c it’s not even 10% (is it even 1%?) as popular as SS among voters. I’d be looking just as confused, thinking “Since when were people this in love with TEC?”

    I never said I disagreed with the author, I was just trying to figure out why people are repping so hard for Big Bird. The attention he is getting is at Trayvon Martin level! That’s major.

    But if you would rather chance Romney being reelected b/c he claims to have helped his state have the best schools in the country instead of chancing losing PBS and “Sesame Street,” you have a right to that opinion.

    I feel like everyone’s drinking the same BB Kool-Aid except me…we can disagree. It’s cool. But it’s just…weird. I was hoping the take-home message for Clutch readers would be to tell other people that MD has actually been the best school system for the past 4 years in a row. Not crazy rebuttles on behalf Big Bird.

    Today’s discussion was interesting.

  • Rae

    Romney as President, i just can’t wrap my head around that. This dude is so out of touch. Where is McCain when you need him. And Palin not sounding so bad now…throw her into the mix. Lol #TeamObama

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