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PBS: Re-Educating America’s Schoolchildren, Thanks to Your Contributions

July 2, 2012

When most people think of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s education programs, they remember the gentle Mr. Rogers welcoming children to his home, or documentaries offering exciting encounters with whales and other exotic creatures.

These shows still exist. But CPB today produces lessons that glorify the Black Panthers and riots and protests of the 1960s, present rocker Patti Smith as a “patriot” for singing songs that condemn President George W. Bush, vilify Wal-Mart, and sanctify environmentalist Rachel Carson. Although their educational materials claim to be objective, the truth is that their unrelenting ideological slant that promotes the politics of protest and civil disobedience is aimed at re-educating children into becoming far-left activists.

But whenever there are attempts to cut federal funding to CPB, the corporation points to its “educational programming” as proof that the approximately $450 million it receives annually from federal taxpayers is being put to good use. Big Bird and other members of the cast of Sesame Street show up in Congress to tell members of the educational value of CPB-funded programs.

Teachers across the nation do turn to Public Broadcasting for videos, classroom projects, and even entire course syllabi. National statistics are elusive, but 80,000 Georgia teachers downloading Public Broadcasting educational materials represent 63% of all public and private K – 12 educators in the state. If Georgia’s teachers are typical of educators in other states, it is clear that most K – 12 schools rely on PBS to teach subjects ranging from arithmetic to World History.

The PBS Teachers website touts its “high-quality pre-K–12 educational resources…classroom materials suitable for a wide range of subjects and grade levels…thousands of lesson plans, teaching activities, on-demand video assets, and interactive games and simulations.” Education is big business for CPB.

Their teacher training and certification are also big business. PBS Teacherline boasts it is “the premiere provider of high-quality online professional development.” Their “collection of more than 130 top quality, graduate level courses for educators spans the entire curriculum.” PBS offers peer assistance, instructional coaches, and other “productive communications and collaboration,” to K–12 teachers.

For the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, providing course syllabi, teacher certification, and other materials to schools serves a dual purpose: it justifies the continuation of taxpayer subsidies for Public Broadcasting while inculcating millions of schoolchildren—a captive audience—with their programming and ideological messages.

For foundations that donate to CPB, PBS, NPR, or state affiliates, PBS Teachers provides a ready-made platform for advancing their ideas and agendas to those same captive student audiences. George Soros’ combined Open Society Foundations (OSF) has supported National Public Radio and independent projects throughout the CPB universe, including underwriting documentaries used in classrooms to “educate” students on various causes. In 2010, Soros made an additional grant of $1.8 million to NPR’s state government reporting initiative. Other large donors include the Joan B. Kroc estate ($230 million after Kroc’s 2003 death), the U.S. Department of Education, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

By creating primary materials through programming and reporting and then producing syllabi packaged by age group based on those primary materials, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has evolved into perhaps the single most influential voice in the nation’s classrooms, while defending their own taxpayer funding streams by doing so.

What types of lessons do students get for this money? An analysis of the thousands of lessons available would fill volumes. At first glance, PBS Teachers curricular materials reflect the skill Public Broadcasting has achieved in putting a veneer of objectivity on their radio and television news programs. But a closer look at the courses offered reveals two overriding tendencies: first, a decidedly leftist ideological slant promoting a “social justice” agenda, and second, relentless emotional manipulation of students, the aim of which is to make them into activists for far-left causes.

The leftist ideological slant is evident in a variety of ways: the quantity of lesson plans focusing on multiculturalism, or identity politics, versus traditional learning; an emphasis on leftist causes and social movements; partisan political material disguised as “media analysis” of elected officials or government policies, and criticism of capitalism and the idea of American exceptionalism. In addition, there is an overemphasis on pop culture, that isn’t necessarily leftist, but is of questionable educational value. For example:

  • There are approximately equal numbers of courses about George Washington and “hip-hop” music.
  • Nearly 100 lessons are dedicated to protest movements, several of which are large, interdisciplinary projects designed to occupy substantial portions of the school day or school semester.
  • The number of courses dedicated to the theme of environmentalism dwarfs other subjects.
  • Health and Fitness, Economics, and Current Events curricula routinely feature highly ideological themes, such as the negative effects of a Wal-Mart moving into town (Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town), or the dangers of genetically modified foods.

Even traditional subjects are presented with an ideological bent. Lessons on periods of history such as World War II or major literary works focus on oppression. Short shrift is given to universal themes, major literary developments, or a sense of historical progression.

 A lesson plan for grades 6 – 12, titled Patti Smith: An Indictment of George W. Bush, requires students to listen to songs by Smith condemning President Bush, and then weigh the “effectiveness” of the songs as both art and protest. Students are given a variety of coercive exercises demanding their personal responses to Smith’s songs, her “aesthetic process,” and her politics. They are instructed to study the “punk” movement of the 1970s; decide whether Smith is a “patriot;” and research one of the following “Periods in U.S. History,” a list that itself illustrates ideological bias:

  • 1950s – Beat Generation; McCarthyism; Elvis Presley
  • 1960s – Civil Rights era; “Space Race;” Woodstock
  • 1970s – Vietnam War; birth of punk rock; Roe v. Wade
  • 1980s – Challenger incident; HIV/AIDS; cable television and MTV
  • 1990s – Gulf War; Los Angeles riots; grunge music
  • 2000s – Iraq and Afghanistan wars; first African-American president; social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook)

Despite its section on what they call “McCarthyism,” they completely miss the beginning and end of the Cold War. It may be difficult to understand how such activities contribute to learning about civics, the ostensible subject matter of the lesson.

The real target of the Store Wars curriculum is economic development. The heroes of the story are government regulators, or “regional planning authorities” that can fight the toxic collaboration of faceless corporations and small-town power brokers. Students are warned that the failure to empower regional planners will lead to “sprawl,” which is described unambiguously.

Another theme concerns Wal-Mart’s refusal to sell sexually explicit music. Students are encouraged to “debate” Wal-Mart’s alleged attack on First Amendment rights. They are shown video clips featuring people who opposed and supported a Wal-Mart store in Ashland, North Carolina. They are then assigned roles representing the real town residents in a pretend “talk show,” while other students inexplicably play fictional “technical crew members.”

It is not only in lessons on current hot-button issues that students are directed toward activism, but also in regular history lessons. Even when dealing with major world events, like World War II, students are required to engage emotionally, play out roles as if their actions and attitudes had decisive effects, and respond on the spot under group pressure—all in a virtual knowledge vacuum.

A disproportionate number of lessons related to World War II focus on the relocation to camps of 110,000 American citizens and aliens of Japanese descent from 1942 to 1944. This regrettable wartime event has taken on monumental proportions, and in the PBS universe, it dwarfs major battles, worldwide suffering and death, and Allied victory.

In these lessons, all Americans are blamed for their complicity in allowing the camps: “In their collective silence it can be said that the American public, caught up in wartime hysteria, implicitly joined the perpetrator against the victim group.” This furthers the PBS emphasis on protest as a civic duty of all Americans: not protesting is presented as an “abrogation of civic duty.” The editors tell teachers that this kind of education is necessary for “systemic healing.”

No student should be subjected to the unsettling and coercive teaching techniques evident throughout the PBS Teachers lesson plans. Merely increasing political “balance” by adding more viewpoints and resources from across the political spectrum will not do enough to address underlying problems involving teaching techniques, techniques that replace knowledge, logic, and the acquisition of real critical thinking skills with emotional manipulation and the production of guilt and shame.

Nor should taxpayers be asked to support the dissemination of biased educational materials. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s ace in the hole in demanding taxpayer support has long been their argument that they deserve to be funded because they contribute to the education of America’s schoolchildren. But should taxpayers continue to fund what is in reality the re-education of America’s schoolchildren? We think not.

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Copyright ©2012 Mary Grabar and Tina Trent