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
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Mon October 8, 2012
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
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT