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.

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