Big Bird makes big difference in young lives
by Judy Elliott
Columnist
October 14, 2012 01:43 AM | 1264 views | 12 12 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mitt Romney is too old to have watched “Sesame Street” It came along after the cartoon fever of the Disney years. The difference between the belly laughs when Tom, the cat, went after Jerry, the mouse, and the adventures of Muppets on “Sesame Street” was basic kindness. Nobody cried: “Foul play!” when the mouse was cornered.

The antics of cartoon critters aren’t meant to be morality tales. But the character of “Sesame Street” embraced lessons for life: Fairness, tolerance, sharing, patience and Miss Piggy made children laugh.

If a young boy could not find a Scout troop in Harlem in 1969, he could turn on a television set, channel surf to PBS and Big Bird would be his stand-in character-builder for an hour every day.

With a New York neighborhood backdrop, “Sesame Street” gave a kid who knew the territory a feeling of being at home in the company of Asian and Hispanic children, playing parts on TV. In rural South Dakota, a child who had never seen a shiny cap of black hair on a Japanese schoolmate, (because there were no Japanese school mates) watched diversity and friendship hold hands on “Sesame Street.”

Today, grouchy Muppets and Big Bird still sing alphabet songs on PBS. They remind children to look out for the little guy and settle differences in a kindly manner.

When presidential candidate Mitt Romney labeled PBS as expendable in a plan to reign in federal spending, a little research turned up the cost. Government support of public television amounts to one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget.

The return on that money is worth considering. Eighty-one percent of our sea-to-shining-sea children ages 2-8 watch public television. Over 90 percent of grown-up Americans, (who cut their teeth on “Sesame Street”) also tune in.

I am checking off the days until Masterpiece Theatre’s “Downton Abbey” returns, and most nights, I am one in an audience of PBS Evening News followers.

In the hour between sunset and supper, I once heard poet Wyatt Putney read words, achingly somber, defining his feelings as he watched a series of photographs and names appear on his TV screen, the PBS News’ repeated eulogy to our own, killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I have seen reports on the plight of this country’s failing schools and watched cool-headed economists disagree on the cause of jobs, lost. I’ve heard stories from homeowners in Florida who live in neighborhoods of foreclosures.

PBS Evening News broadcasts have brought me shy novelists reading their work and inner city children playing in school orchestras. I’ve observed masters of the Internet explaining the effect of social media on politics.

But Romney’s threat still begs the question: Is public television’s array of programs, informative, armed with cultural heft and child-friendly, worth the cost of one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget’s tally?

Well, there’s this. With 81 percent of our children, 2-8, tuning in to PBS every day, many living in rural areas, growing up in places where there are no symphonies or libraries, educational programming may be the only game in town re-enforcing positive transforming experiences.

Always, there is a chance a child in a rough-and-tumble world, over which he has no control, watches Big Bird and the Muppets on “Sesame Street” as they accept differences in their neighbors’ skin colors. Seeing what is possible, a young life could well decide racial slurs on the playground are not Golden Rule material.

As for grown-ups, the 91 percent of Americans who tune in to PBS are polarized over everything from evolution to affirmative action, but, on occasion, still choose a news program free from inflammatory rhetoric or political bias. That’s nothing short of a miracle.

Public television programming costs each of us about $1.35 a year, but, to a latchkey child, faced with solitary afternoons, the value of having a goofy, nine-foot, bright yellow Big Bird as companion and “Sesame Street” friend? Priceless!

Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.
Comments
(12)
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anonymous
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October 15, 2012
Re: "The difference between ... when Tom, the cat, went after Jerry, the mouse, ...“Sesame Street” was basic kindness. Nobody cried: “Foul play!” when the mouse was cornered."

In nature, cats eat mice (in the real world people eat both cats and mice). However, in the author's world I guess everyone would be vegan and exchange holiday cards with different species.

How about $13.50?
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October 15, 2012
Public television programming costs each of us about $1.35 a year
Make it Up
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October 15, 2012
Am I the only one to notice the mindless making up of facts that this award-winning columnist partakes in? Does anyone believe this to be true "81 percent of our children, 2-8, tuning in to PBS every day".

Where is the columnist's citation of this fact? 81% of children watch PBS every day? Seriously??? On what planet? It's certainly not Earth.

Forget PBS. We need to demand better columnists.
Too funny
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October 15, 2012
In less than 1 minute on Google:

82% of all kids age two to eight have watched PBS this season. (Nielsen NPower, 9/19/2011-9/9/2012)

You're welcome.

/PBS fan
@too funny
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October 15, 2012
Your note appears to say that 82% of kids have watched PBS at some point during the season. The author of this column says 81% tune in EVERY DAY. - Is it 82% or 81%

- At least once over the course of several months (per nielsen) or EVERY DAY as the author states.

I am a PBS fan - not of government subsidies to it - and most certainly not a fan of this columnist who's writing is constantly frivolous, lazy, and wrong.
This season?
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October 15, 2012
Is "this season" every day? Anyway, if this is the case, that's GREAT news because it means the private market could very easily support the PBS and government funding is truly unnecessary.
@webeditor
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October 15, 2012
regarding: "Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta."

Exactly what award has she won? I've searched and can't find anything. Was it a participation ribbon of some kind?
Ryan Bays
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October 14, 2012
Bravo. Politicians, please don't touch PBS.

Here's a case study: the Learning Channel was founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as an informative/instructional network focused on providing real education through the medium of TV; it was distributed at no cost by NASA satellite. Then it was privatized in 1980. Now its lineup includes such past and present hits as: Toddlers & Tiaras, Sarah Palin's Alaska, Extreme Couponing, 19 Kids and Counting, Kate Plus 8, Sister Wives, Long Island Medium, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.
B D Lane
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October 14, 2012
Hi, Ms. Elliott,

First, let me say that Big Bird is absolutely important to many young children, and I like PBS. But there is a bigger issue here. Benjamin Franklin once said that tiny leaks will sink a big ship. The amount of money given to Big Bird IS pretty tiny, but it's a leak that isn't needed for the treasury. When Sesame Street Workshop makes millions of dollars each year in merchandising--and when the lady in charge of Sesame Street Workshop says no government support is needed for the Sesame Street franchise to continue to thrive--why wouldn't we plug up that tiny leak? It's not much money, to be sure, but it's a start, yes? After all, Big Bird is a wealthy fellow. He will continue to help young kids think about kindness without using tax payer dollars. His corporate caretaker has said so publicly. This is Mitt Romney's point. When so in debt as a country, we must make hard decisions, and this isn't even a hard decision. No one wants to cook Big Bird's goose. Republicans simply want him to fly out of the corporate welfare nest. ;)
Too funny
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October 15, 2012
If republicans are worried about corporate welfare, why not exercise the 80/20 rule and hit the biggest beneficiaries first? Here are some for-profits that received or continue to receive taxpayer support: Bank of America, Citibank, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Enron, Boeing, Halliburton, Mobil Oil, IBM, General Electric, AT&T, Motorola, Lucent Technologies, FedEx, General Motors, Raytheon, and United Technologies
@TF
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October 15, 2012
Interesting point: receive taxpayer support: Bank of America, Citibank, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Enron, Boeing, Halliburton, Mobil Oil, IBM, General Electric, AT&T, Motorola, Lucent Technologies, FedEx, General Motors, Raytheon, and United Technologies

Most if not all of these companies are PBS sponsors. So, citizens are paying far more than $1.35 each.
B D Lane
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October 15, 2012
Well, Too Funny, if you are paying attention to the Romney campaign, you will know that corporate welfare in general will be a target for a Romney administration. Sounds good to me. ;)
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