A Cautious Man
January 26, 2005
 
"(Maple-Sugaring) Axes of Evil"
The Department of Education has apparently succeeded in protecting America's youth from being corrupted by scenes of "maple-sugaring" in the woods of Vermont. The scene of the almost-crime is a PBS children's show called "Postcards from Buster", which chronicles the travels of a white rabbit (hmm, wonder why they let that one go?). Anyway, this "Buster" rabbit journeys around the country, meeting different people. He has a "blog", where you can read details of some of his episodes/adventures. From looking at the various entries, he visits with Americans from all walks of life, from varied religious traditions, from all types of neighborhoods, and backgrounds ranging from immigrant to Native American. However, on one of those visits, in an episode called "Sugartime!", he visits with some people that the Department of Education would just as soon not be mentioned - a lesbian couple. This was too much for the Department of Education:
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the "Sugartime!" episode does not fulfill the intent Congress had in mind for programming. By law, she said, any funded shows must give top attention to "research-based educational objectives, content and materials."

"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," Spellings wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of PBS.

"Congress' and the Department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television."

She asked PBS to consider refunding the money it spent on the episode.

With her letter, Spellings has made criticism of the publicly funded program's depiction of the gay lifestyle one of her first acts as secretary. She began on Monday, replacing Rod Paige as President Bush's education chief.

Spellings issued three requests to PBS.

She asked that her department's seal or any statement linking the department to the show be removed. She asked PBS to notify its member stations of the nature of show so they could review it before airing it. And she asked for the refund "in the interest of avoiding embroiling the Ready-To-Learn program in a controversy that will only hurt" it.

In closing, she warned: "You can be assured that in the future the department will be more clear as to its expectations for any future programming that it funds."
Now, as it happens, the "blog" for that episode has already been removed from the show's website. But, it's still available via the Google cache. This is what was so contrary to the mission and intent of the Department of Education:
We traveled to Vermont in the spring. They call it "mud season" because all the melting snow makes lots of mud. It's like the whole state is a mud puddle!

While there, we visited Emma, David, and James, who live with their two moms, Karen and Gillian. Karen and my mom used to work at the same newspaper together.
Now, remember, this is a show in which the main character travels around and meets different kinds of people. The Department of Education apparently is concerned that simply meeting a same-sex couple will cause some sort of viewer trauma. Now, it seems to me that if any child has a question about what he or she sees on television (or a person he or she meets in real life, because that will happen), the parents can then share their views with the child. I find it hard to believe that the episode violated any valid Education Department policy, or any principle that would be espoused by a responsible educator. I think the Education Secretary's snit about this was uncalled for, and it's unfortunate that PBS felt that, politically, it had to cave in to these people.

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