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WOSTER: Finding funding to keep those sunny days and clouds away

My kids, adults now, grew up with "Sesame Street,'' which meant that Nancy and I did, too. The show first aired on Public Television in the fall of 1969, when we had a daughter almost 2 years old and a son just eight months. I remember thinking i...

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

My kids, adults now, grew up with "Sesame Street,'' which meant that Nancy and I did, too.

The show first aired on Public Television in the fall of 1969, when we had a daughter almost 2 years old and a son just eight months. I remember thinking it was kind of a goofy show. As the kids grew a bit older, it was clear that they found many of the program's characters and features fascinating. They were learning a thing or two about numbers and letters and communication and how to treat people, too.

And how could even a busy, serious adult not like that bouncy theme song? "Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet. Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?" It made a guy want to slap on a happy face and rush to where friendly neighbors meet, you know? The mix of talented human characters and off-the-wall Muppets - Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Kermit the "it isn't easy being green" Frog and the rest - made it a draw for both kids and grown-ups, I came to understand.

Nancy and I took in a grade-school music concert at Chamberlain this past week. That's one reason I'm thinking of "Sesame Street'' and Muppets. The program ran 30 or so action-packed minutes, featuring songs from the Muppet Movie and costumes from Muppet characters. The music teacher and the children seemed genuinely happy to be singing and performing. Our third-grade granddaughter made up a character - a chain-draped, drumstick wielding, wild-red-haired sister to Animal, the drummer in the Muppet rock band.

The music teacher told the audience that when the kids - kindergarten through third grade - began rehearsing, few if any of them knew who the Muppets were. Seriously? Many in the audience knew, a show of hands confirmed. Some probably grew up with "Sesame Street,'' others surely had children who did.

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On the drive home, I thought about the program, the reach of public broadcasting (not only "Sesame Street," but also "The Electric Company'' - with characters like Fargo North, Decoder, and Morgan Freeman's Easy Reader - the happy painter show and others. I thought of the times I had tuned in for history specials and statewide political programs and candidate debates and legislative recaps and "Great Performances'' and "Austin City Limits.'' And I thought about recent news that public broadcasting is among programs facing funding cuts in the proposed federal budget.

A friend who worked many years in public television told me of a cross-state bicycle trip he once took from northwest to southeast. Out in the vast northwest, he pedaled into a ranch yard, and two young children came running around the corner of the barn. "Hey,'' they yelled, "It's Clifford's friend.'' (Clifford is a big, red dog) Turned out, public television was the only channel that ranch family could tune in where they lived. My travels across the state as a reporter took me many places where that was so. The system took programming to remote places at a time when nobody else could or would.

The proposed budget, and I emphasize proposed, also reduces funding for the arts and the humanities. Now, my daughter coordinates the South Dakota Humanities Council's annual book festival, so I'm biased. But I've seen children and adults alike come alive when surrounded by books and authors at each festival. The fact that six Pulitzer Prize winners visited Brookings during last fall's festival may not have been significant to all of us. It was incredibly rewarding to a bunch of us.

I agree that private enterprise should do most things. And private donations help fund arts and humanities and what we used to call "educational television." But those endeavors help develop and nurture the human mind and the human spirit. That's worth a small piece of the public budget, isn't it?

I see I've strayed far from a grade-school concert. That's the thing about the arts, the humanities, educational television. They encourage a person to think. Sometimes the thought process is sparked by a frog, a rainbow and a happy song.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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