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.
The same justification is offered by state affiliates. For example, in 2011, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s marketing vice president, Nancy Zintak, defended their executives’ salaries by explaining that “80,000 Georgia teachers have downloaded data more than 5 million times from GPB’s educational website.”
Georgia taxpayers directly fund half of GPB’s annual $29 million budget. Millions more are funneled through the state’s public university budgets.
Teachers across the nation do turn to Public Broadcasting for videos, classroom projects, and even entire course syllabi. National statistics are elusive, but those 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.
The PBS Teachers Educational Universe
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.
What Is Being Taught?
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.
- 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.
How Are Subjects Being Taught? (The Emotion Revolution)
PBS Teachers is leading the shift in education from objective to “emotional” learning. This increasing reliance in classrooms on emotion-based encounters is revolutionary, affecting both what is taught and how it is taught. PBS lessons across the curriculum de-emphasize facts and ideas in favor of eliciting subjective responses and personal opinions from students, or even leading students through exercises designed to make them imagine the emotions of various individuals involved in historical events. Students are evaluated not so much on what they know as on the attitudes they hold.
Consequences of the Emotion Revolution:
- PBS lessons vigorously promote an extreme, trans-historical version of identity politics, dividing all people into groups of “victims” and “victimizers.”
- Lessons and assignments are designed to force students to express political beliefs and engage in coercive, emotion-based exercises in reaction to controversial issues.
- Students are forced to engage in a variety of staged traumas in the classroom and with each other, ostensibly to “experience” historical events.
- Students are subjected to obsessive exhortations to “oppose bullying” and “teach tolerance.” They are made to play-act instances of bullying and are instructed to discover intolerance and prejudice in their own families, communities, and peers.
By imposing political bias and forcing students to participate in scripted explorations of “appropriate” emotional responses to selective historical events, PBS Teachers is transforming education into re-education. A closer look at individual lesson plans will demonstrate how PBS curricula turn classrooms into recruitment sites for leftist causes.
Protest Lessons: Pigs in the Street
Public Broadcasting has become bolder in casting an ideological lens over history, and this is reflected in the classroom materials they produce. Some of the most egregious examples of this ideological bias appear in syllabi covering the protest movements of the 1960’s. One such lesson was derived from an episode of the PBS show, History Detectives. The show examines a protest poster from the 1968 Democratic Convention featuring a picture of a thuggish street cop and an upraised “black-power” fist, with the words: “Hot Town—Pigs in the Streets…But the streets belong to the people! Dig it?”
The Hot Town lesson plan requires students to contemplate the radical street protests and riots of the late 1960s almost exclusively from the perspective of the protesters. The videotaped segments taken from the History Detectives show are narrated by an academic who speaks of having been enrolled in a “Black Panther Party breakfast program” and having “heard a lot of their educational speeches.” The violence of the Black Panthers, including murders and armed bank robberies, goes unmentioned as the Panthers are romanticized as mere social workers. The poster crudely depicting policemen as “pigs” becomes the object of a “mystery” hunt to discover its origins.
The Hot Town lesson is typical of many PBS syllabi that deliver radical content from a biased perspective while claiming to be teaching students useful interpretive skills: in this case, the skill is “researching an historical artifact.” The lesson enables sympathetic-appearing radicals to reminisce about screaming epithets at the police and rioting in the streets. “Police brutality” is discussed at length, while the Black Panthers’ murderous campaign against real police officers and fellow activists is not mentioned. The Hot Town video ends with the poster creator’s happy memory of knocking over a police van. He is described as an activist who went from rioting to serving health food to poor people and who now works as a Chicago Ward president for the Democratic Party.
A related “protest” lesson that whitewashes protester violence is the multi-part curriculum, Chicago 10. It uses an animated version of the 1968 Chicago riots depicting violent protesters as victims of police brutality to “encourage people to take a more active role in protest.” The lesson also describes the arrest of protesters planning to bomb the 2008 Republican Convention as mere police over-reach that was exposed by courageous activists with cell phones. Revolution in Newark teaches students that the Newark Riots were a principled “uprising.” A Civil Disobedience exercise featuring Code Pink activist Cindy Sheehan directs students to imagine “a situation in which they might use civil disobedience” and then write a journal “reflect[ing] on” their imaginary protest and law-breaking.
PBS protest-based curricula are deployed throughout the disciplines with the justification that the lessons are not only about the protest itself but also are intended to teach “critical thinking” or historical research, or music, or art. Thus, more of the school day may be dedicated to romanticizing protesters, demonizing those trying to maintain social order, and training children to become activists.
Protest Lessons: Patti Smith: An Indictment of George W. Bush
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.
Protest Lessons: Banning DDT, Opposing Wal-Mart
Demands that students react emotionally to classroom materials and commit to becoming activists are present throughout PBS science and economics curricula. A lesson on Rachel Carson, the biologist author of the anti-DDT tract Silent Spring, focuses on Carson’s crusading personality, rather than offering balanced scientific evidence on the real-world consequences of the DDT ban she inspired.
Teachers are urged to: “Explain to your students that Rachel Carson risked her professional reputation to communicate her findings in Silent Spring to the public.” They are instructed to guide students through reflections on Carson’s integrity while drawing pictures of landscapes before and after DDT. The post-DDT picture, teachers are reminded, “might depict fewer birds and other animals.” Other coercive busywork includes:
- “Take a few minutes to discuss with students what qualities Rachel Carson must have had in order to write this book. Examples might include courage, vision, dedication to the health of future generations, etc.”
- Ask students: “What literary, movie or other characters remind you of Rachel Carson and why?” and “Who have you personally known who reminds you of Rachel Carson and why?”
- “Encourage students to discuss why they selected certain descriptions [of post-DDT landscapes], if the mood changed in their picture, and their thoughts for both pictures.”
Finally, students are to be asked, “How can we have humbleness toward nature?” The negative worldwide consequences of the DDT ban do not appear in the curriculum, and it is not evident how a student might introduce them without disrupting the dramatic classroom narrative.
A thought-provoking question that could be asked is, “What facts does Carson actually present?” as opposed to predictions.
Ironically, students are not even trusted to read more than a few pages of Silent Spring. Instead, as in many PBS exercises, they are given a brief excerpt of the original source and then “guided” through emotional responses to it.
The lesson plan, Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town, similarly leads students through a highly structured narrative in which plucky activists take on “the world’s largest retailer along with the town’s establishment.” While the course materials include arguments for allowing a Wal-Mart store to open, the material is clearly slanted against the chain store.
Such false debates occur frequently in PBS lesson plans under the guise of offering balance, with one outcome clearly the desired one.
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:
Sprawl has become an increasing concern for American communities. Due to poorly planned regional development, sprawl eats up prime agricultural land and open space, increases traffic and air pollution, drives up taxes and contributes to overpopulation.
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.”
Why is so much emphasis placed on mimicking the conditions of a television studio? Perhaps to cover up the paucity of real learning and real debate, as students “role-play” villains and heroes in a pre-packaged morality play.
After being made to act out activism in the classroom, students are given a “resource page” to guide them in real-life activist pursuits against the retailer. The list includes links to activist organizations, including: Wal-Mart Watch, Corpwatch, SprawlWatch, Congress for the New Urbanism, the Sierra Club, The EPA, the Smart Growth Network, Sprawlbusters, and also anti-capitalist activist Naomi Klein’s book, No-Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.
The Lessons of World War II
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.
For the search term, “World War II,” 59 lesson plans among 162 total items (including videos) show up. Most of these lessons take the focus off the world stage to the domestic. Large political questions are skirted in favor of the personal. This has the effect of leveling all players, ally and foe.
The largest number, 13, of these lessons use the PBS series The War directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Many focus on the domestic and personal: in Combat and War, students study soldiers’ testimonies about psychological and physical effects of war; Letters from the Front Line asks students to examine letters of a soldier and “imagine that you are a soldier fighting on the front lines…and create a letter to your family”; On the Home Front asks students to “Consider life in America prior to its entry into World War II and explore changes brought on by wartime industry.” There are units on Art and Propaganda and Censorship, and one on The War through the Eyes of Al McIntosh, who reported on the local impact of the war. Other lessons focus on The Hispanic Experience in World War II, the Double V program to gain access for African-Americans, and two dealing with the Japanese-American Internment. Even the lesson on the Battle of the Bulge asks students to examine the battle “from both American and German points of view.” The unit on Just War directs the teacher to another unit on pacifists and suggests bringing up the possibility of ulterior motives that might not be evident at the beginning of war. The lesson, D-Day: June 6, 1944, asks students to put together multimedia presentations on their specific battle plans for Operation Overlord.
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.
As in the earlier lessons described, emotional engagement is elicited at every turn. History Detectives appears again to offer artifacts for contemplation, including Japanese internment camp materials. “Webisodes” and documentary clips are available as prompts. Students are imaginatively catapulted into various traumatic scenarios, like being asked to pack for a trip to an internment camp. Comparisons are made to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, with any buried feelings of animosity presented as potentially erupting into “hatred” of the same order.
Students are then asked to apply lessons from World War II to other, more recent, events like the 9/11 attacks. The internment camps become launching points for discussions about racist feelings harbored in the hearts of Americans. Students are asked to scour their consciences as they “reflect” on situations in current events or in their own environments. Such lessons are often, ironically, tagged as addressing “Mental/Emotional Health” and other pedagogically suspect areas like “Historical Perspective” and “Critical Thinking.”
One teacher’s guide titled, Racism, Culture & Trauma: The Japanese American Internment, for the documentary Children of the Camps, is replete with the words “trauma,” “suffering,” “pain,” and “racism.” Parallels are made to segregationist policies and to Nazi treatment of Jews.
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.”
The purpose of another learning exercise—attending “a cultural, social or religious activity” of an unfamiliar ethnic or cultural group and interviewing a member about “racism/discrimination” and then describing one’s own “experiences,” “stereotypes,” and “feelings”—is “to expand the student’s capacity for empathy.”
The exercise, A Subjective Experience, invites the student to pretend that his physical characteristics and values make him an “’undesirable.” He then imagines having 24 hours to relocate to a camp. The purpose of the exercise is “to help students identify personally with the experience of the Japanese Americans.” The non-historical nature of the exercise is even admitted: “[r]ather than using a detached, historical perspective, students are encouraged to imagine themselves in the experience.”
In a series of questionable psychological interpretations, internees’ experiences are likened to those of child abuse victims, and laudable cultural characteristics of the same internees are distorted to become symptoms of oppression. Being a “model minority”—hardworking, law-abiding, and studious—is diagnosed as a coping mechanism!
In other parts of the lesson, common experiences of assimilation, such as Americanizing names, or being embarrassed by having ethnic food in one’s lunch sack at school (The Rice Ball Dilemma lesson), are attributed to traumatic experiences in the camps. Overall, internees are presented as traumatized, weak individuals full of repressed memories.
The unhistorical presentation prepares the way for the suggested questions for classroom discussion, including:
- Equating so-called hate crimes with the “institutionalized racism” of internment camps.
- Explaining the “rise in organized hate groups today.”
- Comparing stereotypes about recent immigrants, “such as Russians, Middle Easterners, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Southeast Asians” with stereotypes about the Japanese.
The lesson Tolerance in Times of Trial also expands the discussion of internment camps to contemporary obsessions regarding race and ethnicity.It connects WWII internment of Japanese and Germans to 9/11 and promises to help teachers “[e]xplore ethnic conflict during times of trial and the inherent problems in assigning blame,” as they are to compare media treatment then to “the American media portrayal of Arab Americans since Sept. 11, 2001.”
The teacher’s guide to the KQED video, Resettlement to Redress, connects internment to contemporary topics of grievance. For grades 7-12, it offers:
- A “pre-viewing activity” which “allows students to become familiar with the main characters…in an interactive and engaging way.”
- An “interior monologue that asks students to put themselves in the shoes of Japanese Americans…”
- “Role-playing around the redress movement.”
- A “Socratic seminar” with the teacher “facilitating…student interaction and discussion through a text,” including materials from the activist news program, “Democracy Now,” and a paper titled, “The Internment of Japanese Americans in Concentration Camps” (emphasis added).
A teacher’s guide to the Frontline film, The Enemy Within, also makes the connection between “Islamophobia” and the longstanding sins of American racism evidenced following the attack on Pearl Harbor. After students spend 45 minutes in online group research, they report their findings “about the period following Dec. 7, 1941.”
Next, the teacher leads a discussion on the following topic: “In the political fear and hysteria after the bombing of Pearl Harbor: was the internment of Americans of Japanese descent understandable? Was it justifiable? What is the difference?” After such a very brief introduction and quickly learning word definitions, students are asked to “make a policy decision to address a specific threat or perceived terrorist threat to the United States looking at two possible scenarios.”
The Notorious “Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes” Experiment Revived
If that lesson doesn’t sink in, the teacher is offered additional resources, including A Class Divided, which “recounts the classic ‘brown eyes/blue eyes’ exercise originally conducted by Iowa teacher Jane Elliot following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.” The notorious experiment, which gave privileges to children based on the color of their eyes in order to mimic racism, drew severe criticism for its exploitation of children.
According to the PBS Teachers guide, the PBS film is intended “to engage students in reflection and dialogue about the historical role of racism in the United States, as well as the role of prejudice and stereotyping in students’ lives today.” The teacher’s manual is full of advice on how to deal with the “raw emotion,” that is, of course, deliberately elicited by the film and suggested topics.
The teacher is directed to “additional tips,” including encouraging students to go through the exercise, regardless of discomfort or pain. In fact, bringing on discomfort and pain is encouraged:
“You can help students get past [the fear of unintentionally saying something offensive] by starting with the assumption that it is likely that we will sometimes make mistakes. Let them know that the mistake is not nearly as important as what they do about it when it happens. Things said in error or ignorance are different than things said to intentionally offend, but they can still be hurtful, so it is important to be aware of the impact of our words, to apologize when appropriate, and most importantly, to learn from our mistakes so we don’t repeat them.”
Students fearful of how their words may be perceived are required to state them anyway and then go through a psychological cleansing process.
Old Strategies Made New
Strangely, or not so strangely, the techniques of the emotion-based classroom mimic the strategies of Communist show trials. In the PBS Teachers universe, the larger lessons about the rise of totalitarian governments (and the contrast to our republican government) are obscured by lessons in psychological profiling and making personal connections—even in lessons about Communism. The focus again is on the personal: “What made Stalin do what he did? What advantages and disadvantages did peasants see in Communism?” In World War II behind Closed Doors, students are asked to make comparisons between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in such areas as sports and propaganda strategies (more “media analysis”). Other lessons focus on topics that enable a positive spin to Communism, such as the “red menace” and the Scottsboro trial. Meanwhile, the philosophical underpinnings and global effects of Communism are largely skirted. Even high school students are not asked to step back, pull together research, and compose sustained analyses.
Richard’s Wright’s Show Trial Experience: A Lesson?
The strategies employed by PBS—the relentless focus on feelings and motivations, the constant demand to reveal these feelings to one’s group, the hammering of lessons about oppression, the demand to solve metaphysical and global problems—bear similarities to what Richard Wright described in his essay in The God That Failed.
Wright describes his brief experience with the Communist Party and the trial of his friend, Ross. Like all victims, Ross is bewildered by charges that have nothing to do with his actions but everything to do with his supposed thoughts and feelings. At Ross’s trial, his comrades, with “absolute freedom of speech,” indict him one by one, beginning with “the world situation.” Wright states, “There had to be established in the minds of all present a vivid picture of mankind under oppression.”
It is against the backdrop of the “world struggle” that Ross’s incorrect ideas gain importance. Ross has to be made to feel that he is an important player in the struggles of the world. The three-hour ordeal consists of the descriptions of the suffering of the oppressed and the needed responses by the Communists. “At last,” writes Wright, “the world, the national, and the local pictures had been fused into one overwhelming drama of moral struggle in which everybody in the hall was participating.”
Under the direction of PBS materials, students are similarly asked to engage in a moral struggle of global proportions. They are made to feel the weight of the world and also feel personally responsible for everything from the death of birds from pesticides to children in concentration camps. Like Ross, they are pressured by their peers and teacher/facilitators to confess to sins of bad thoughts and feelings (“hatred,” “prejudice”).
Despite being told that they are being trained in “critical thinking,” students are, in reality, being manipulated in the worst way.
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.
 “Public Broadcasting: How Viewers’ Money is Spent,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Oct. 29, 2011), p. A -1.
 A lesson from “Culture Shock” tells teachers to ask students to “Examine how America is still affected by slavery today, discuss the extent to which ‘Huck Finn’ is a racist novel, identify alternative endings for the book and determine if the novel should be taught in American schools.”
 One high school lesson, Connecting to World War II, is advertised in the search with this description: “Explore personal emotional connections to the concepts of war and peace by composing a reflection that expresses the relationship between a family or historical experience and World War II.”
 Search conducted on June 19, 2012.
 This is the dominant strategy of other curriculum companies, like Facing History and Ourselves and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Although PBS often directs teachers to its own offerings, it sometimes links to and directs them to materials from these radical groups.