On only her second day at work Margaret Spellings, Rod Paige’s replacement as U.S. Education Secretary, made her mark — she condemned PBS for producing a children’s television show that included two families headed by lesbian couples.
Unlike her predecessor in his infamous comment on the National Education Association, however, Spellings stopped short of calling the popular cartoon rabbit “Buster” a terrorist.
“Postcards from Buster” is a combination animated/live action program that focuses on teaching preschoolers English as a second language, amidst a backdrop of diversity. The show has included Muslim families, Pentecostal Christian families, and Hmong families, among others. The episode in question, “Sugartime!,” features Buster visiting real-life children in Vermont who show him how maple syrup and cheese are made. These children happen to come from families headed by two mothers.
The show is supported in part by Ready-to-Learn funding from the Department of Education. Spellings’ letter to the CEO of PBS stated that Congress’ and the Department’s purpose in establishing this fund “certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children.” Apparently she did not read the Department’s request for proposals, which said, “Diversity will be incorporated into the fabric of the series to help children understand and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural society. The series will avoid stereotypical images of all kinds and show modern multi-ethnic/lingual/cultural families and children.”
Spellings urged PBS to “strongly consider returning” the federal funds spent on producing the episode.
Spellings also wrote that the primary focus of the Ready-to-Learn funding is preparing preschoolers for school, and “facilitating student academic achievement.”
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, over 2 million children under the age of 18 live in households headed by same-sex partners. Undoubtedly this number includes children of preschool age. Perhaps Spellings could clarify just how letting these children see a positive reflection of themselves (essential for the emotional development of young children) would be at odds with their future academic achievement.
Or maybe she would like to meet some of the children and explain to them exactly what makes their families “inappropriate.”
Note: On the same day that the PBS CEO received the letter from Spellings, PBS announced that it was pulling the episode. WGBH in Boston (the PBS affiliate that produces “Postcards from Buster”), however, will air the episode, and is distributing it to any PBS stations that would like to do the same. As of Jan. 31, 18 PBS affiliates, including some of the largest, plan to air the show.
Deb Wilmer is a secretary in Arizona.