If you grew up with the basic cable package while the rest of your kindergarten classmates were watching “SpongeBob SquarePants,” you tuned into shows like “Arthur,” “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on your local PBS station. This was before the days of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and if your parents didn’t have one of those fancy satellite dishes, then you were limited to just a handful of basic channels, and your days of television included Barney the dinosaur and “Dragon Tales.” If you’re one of those people, we hope you’re smiling fondly. Even if you were fortunate to have Playhouse Disney or Nickelodeon, you’ve probably at least seen some of the old PBS Kids shows.
Last week, President Donald Trump submitted his budget proposal, which includes cuts to various government organizations — NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education among some. All of the arts and cultural agencies got cut in the budget proposal: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and, yes, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Those arts and cultural agencies only represented .02 percent of the budget in the first place; the CPB costs citizens about $1.35 a year.
People who support this change argue that PBS programming is dull and not up to par with other channels and streaming services such as HBO, Netflix and ESPN. To those people, we’d like to say that is not the point of PBS. It has never been the point of PBS to produce content to churn in large audiences and high reviews. The point of PBS is to be an accessible network for education and arts. It’s not supposed to be full of star-studded names and raunchy scenes.
And to those arguing that PBS is useless and serves no entertainment purpose, we will say PBS is not for you.
PBS is not made for those who have Netflix accounts (or their parents’ accounts). It’s not made for children who are given their own iPad at the age of 2. That’s not saying those people can’t enjoy PBS; by all means, tune into episodes of “Downton Abbey” or “Antiques Roadshow.” PBS can be enjoyed by everyone.
But PBS is made for those who don’t have hundreds of channels or access to streaming. It’s made for families with a basic cable package, who still deserve to have access to programming, especially children’s programming. The PBS Ready to Learn Program, for instance, helps teach children under 5 basic skills in math, literacy and social development. Not all children grow up with the luxury of having their parents or nannies home all day. If you remember learning phonetics with “Between the Lions” or negative numbers with “Cyberchase” or how to confront a bully with the delightful anamorphic cast of “Arthur,” just to name a few, then you know just how educational (and entertaining) these programs can be. To some of us, it was a supplement to preschool; to others, it was the fundamentals.
PBS’ goal is to make education and the arts accessible to all, especially to the kids out there who only have PBS. Should this proposed budget go through, all the arts and cultural programs will need our support. If you think you could do without them, then congratulations, you’re lucky, because those programs were probably not meant for you.