To the Editor:
Has “no child left behind” become “it’s OK to leave behind children from groups we don’t like”? That’s the impression left by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ outrageous request that the Public Broadcasting Service withdraw the “Sugartime” episode of its children’s show “Postcards from Buster” (“Federal Grant Boosts Educational Television, Faces Fresh Scrutiny,” Feb. 9, 2005).
“Postcards from Buster” reflects many of our most important American values. It features children from every corner of the country as it celebrates strong bonds between children and the adults who love them. It encourages children to be proud of their heritage, and it shows active kids who love learning.
The “Sugartime” episode features children from a loving family in Vermont who are connected to their land, their community, and their religion. Nothing that the family does is particularly out of the ordinary. Except the family is headed by two moms. Secretary Spellings didn’t object to what anyone did; she objected to who they were. In America, that kind of discrimination is illegal.
Ms. Spellings’ attempt to justify the action as giving parents the right to decide when and how to expose their children to this “lifestyle” is deluded. There are hundreds of thousands of children in the United States being raised by gay or lesbian parents. These are real kids. They are already in schools and on sports teams and even in church.
It is reasonable for parents to expect that children will ask questions. But a society that values knowledge doesn’t censor things that trigger questions. Are we really prepared to accept a secretary of education who is cruel enough to say to real children from a real family, “Sorry, we can show all kinds of families, but not yours”? Never mind that the original intention of the series, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, was to showcase our nation’s diversity.
What Secretary Spellings should have said was, if a young child asks why that family on TV has two moms, a developmentally appropriate answer would be: “There are lots of different kinds of families in the world.” That factual statement doesn’t convey support or opposition. And for most young children, it will be enough. The conversation could continue with an expression of your own values—perhaps something like, “I am glad that those children have parents who love them, like I love you.”
Kudos to WGBH and the PBS stations across the country that have chosen to defy the secretary’s demand and broadcast “Sugartime.” The children and parents in our communities are well served by their decision.
The writer is the founding president of the Alliance for a Media Literate America, a national organization of media-literacy educators and advocates.
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Censoring ‘Buster’ Denies Diversity of U.S. Families