Laura Chapman wrote the following expose of a new series that will appear on PBS. It must be public television’s effort to curry favor with the Trump administration, as it reflects the extremist agenda of Betsy DeVos, who is intent on creating a free market in publicly-funded schooling. Since Trump’s budget has proposed to eliminate funding for public television, this series may be a demonstration that even PBS will give a showcase to libertarians who want to destroy public institutions.

More than ten years ago, PBS ran a four-part series called SCHOOL, produced by Sarah Patton, Sarah Mondale, and Vera Aronow. It was a history of public education that documented the role of public education in welcoming generations of immigrants and leading the way to a better society. For the past four years the same team has been creating a one-hour documentary exposing the corporate assault on public education. They have struggled to find funding, but they are near completion. The very least that PBS could do to compensate for featuring a one-sided rightwing diatribe against public education would be to show “Backpack Full of Cash,” which portrays the bitter forces of reaction that seek to destroy one of our most treasured democratic institutions, public schools funded by all and open to all.

It is ironic and sad that public television would lend credibility to an attack on public education. Encouraging the forces intent on destroying everything “public” will not save public television.

Chapman writes:

“I just posted about the SCHOOL, INC. television programs on PBS. I did not do enough research. Here is what you really should know about the programs.

“These programs are pure propaganda for so-called free market education. They have been produced courtesy of Free to Choose, a promoter of all things that the late Milton and Rosa Friedman would love.

“The PBS website says that funding for these programs has been provided by the Texas-based Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson Foundation. See
The Anderson Foundation s one of several ultra conservative funders, but the series is also sell-funded by being part of the Free to Choose Network. That Network is a non-profit set up by the one of the Executive Producers Bob Chitester

“Bob Chitester is chairman, president and CEO of Free To Choose Network, a 501-c-3 public foundation housing Free To Choose Media, an award-winning, global entertainment company which produces and distributes thought-provoking public television programs and series. In 1977, Chitester and economist Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, undertook a film project which became Free To Choose, an award-winning PBS TV series and an international best-selling book based on the series. You can learn more about the connection of this non-profit to the Friedman doctrine of market-based education here and elsewhere on the internet.

“Among the others responsible for the series is Andrew Coulson. Coulson is the Creator, Writer, and Director. His bio, posted on PBS, says Coulson studied mathematics and computer science at McGill University and worked as a Microsoft software engineer. In 1994, he became ” troubled by the fact that teaching and learning were being left behind by the relentless progress in other fields. His book, Market Education: The Unknown History, received endorsements from Washington Post columnist William Raspberry, Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, Harvard political scientist Paul Peterson, and University of Chicago education psychologist Herbert Walberg. His 2009 paper for the peer-reviewed Journal of School Choice was the most comprehensive review of the worldwide scientific literature comparing alternative education systems. In 2011 he conducted a statistical study titled “The Other Lottery: Are Philanthropists Backing the Best Charter Schools?” Coulson has ….testified before the United States House and Senate on the state of American education and co-authored amicus briefs for the United States Supreme Court. He was senior fellow in education policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute, and contributed chapters to books by the Hoover Institution and Canada’s Fraser Institute. Prior to his death in February 2016, Coulson made arrangements to ensure School, Inc. would be completed for broadcast television.”

“There are many reasons why I support my local PBS broadcasters. This programing is not one of them.

“Overall, I think that PBS has done a miserable job of seeking spokespersons for public education, especially parents, students, administrators and politicians. Diane Ravitch has appeared on Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers and a few other programs, but I have seen no real coverage of the issues facing public education right now.

“I wonder if PBS scheduled this series to coincide with the Betsy DeVos/Trump agenda that will pour money into vouchers and set in motion market-based education as if the new norm for American education. I wonder if Milton and Rosa Friedman smiling. Did PBS intend to insult many of their supporters, including me, by scheduling this series now?

“Please be aware that this PBS series is a propaganda machine for market-based education. The programs are not presented in a context that makes that obvious.

“I intend to let my local PBS stations know that this series looks like a well-planned and perfectly timed promo for the DeVos/Trump agenda.

“I will also ask for them to take affirmative steps to support public education and the public schools in their viewing areas.

“PBS seems to be satisfied with educational programming for use by teachers and cartoony programs for children. Sesame Street is hosted after it has made money elsewhere. Unless I am mistaken, Trump’s proposed budget for PBS will bring a 20% cut, not total elimination.

“PBS needs all the support it can get. This is not a way to support the public schools who serve the majority of our students and with uncommon ingenuity and devotion in the midst of budget cuts and unwarranted, unsupported attacks from billionaires, including the funders of these programs.”