One of the first things newly-sworn-in U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings did was denounce a PBS cartoon. The particular episode of the show Postcards from Buster was titled Sugartime! (I could make a pathetic attempt at a pun with that title, but I’ll save readers the agony.) Her problem was that the episode featured a lesbian couple.
Writing to PBS President Pat Mitchell, Spellings noted, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode.”
Criticism soon followed. The Human Rights Campaign issued a press release that said it “denounces the intolerance that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings demonstrated by pulling funding from a cartoon show promoting understanding.”
That’s the key to the whole controversy: Taxpayer money is being used to fund the show. According to The Boston Globe, 63 percent of the show’s $5 million funding comes from the federal government’s Ready-to-Learn program. USA Today reported that PBS also receives 16.4 percent of its funds through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was set up by Congress. The state governments account for about 18 percent of funding.
Spellings said, “Congress’ and the Department’s purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children.” She also noted, “I think that particular topic of sexuality and lifestyles are things that need to be introduced by parents and families in their own way and in their own time.”
But HRC’s political director disagreed. “Teaching children about respect for differences promotes tolerance of their fellow human beings. Those are the values our children should be learning.”
But the term “values” means different things to different people. Some parents feel it is a good thing for their children to be exposed to different sexual orientations, and some don’t.
This controversy shares a striking resemblance to an incident a few weeks ago where Dr. James Dobson, head of the group Focus on the Family, denounced a video being distributed to schools that he deemed to promote homosexuality. The video, an initiative of the We Are Family Foundation, featured a host of famous cartoon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants. Dobson cited past pro-homosexual activities by the group and wrote on his Web site, “Kids should not be taught that homosexuality is just another ‘lifestyle’ or that it is morally equivalent to heterosexuality.”
Dobson’s group is not alone in its opposition to the promotion of homosexuality in public schools. Many parents have problems with homosexuality and find it offensive that their tax money is going to such activity.
Others, like HRC, say that the schools should teach diversity and understanding of homosexuality and other “alternative lifestyles.” Their press release said, “Creating a climate in which children are taught that differences should be feared does nothing to promote understanding for peers.”
Key words, such as “understanding” and “tolerance,” are often used by such groups. The trouble arises when people disagree on the definition of those terms. HRC and like-minded individuals view the terms as harmless and teaching respect for differences. Focus on the Family and their supporters view the terms as propaganda and promotion of lifestyles that go against the principles they are trying to teach their children.
Those on HRC’s side would view the beliefs of groups like Focus on the Family as intolerant and bigoted. Those on Dobson’s side would reject HRC’s ideas as sinful and disrespectful of parental rights.
These types of arguments tend to never get resolved. One group wants its “values” promoted using taxpayer money. The other wants that group to stop “indoctrinating” their kids. The controversy goes on and on.
What can possibly be done to overcome such a dilemma? How about banning cartoons? Not for that? How about nixing the whole public-education system? But since I’m writing to mostly USF students, I doubt I’ll find any takers on that either. Hmm, what to do?
The strange thing is, I don’t recall anywhere in the Constitution where it gives Congress the authority to use taxpayer money to subsidize television. Somehow that point gets lost in this debate. I guess promoting our “values” is more important than that old piece of paper anyway.
Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science. firstname.lastname@example.org