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
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT