Our departed colleague Andrew Coulson spent the last years of his life producing School Inc., a wonderful and informative documentary about the possibilities of private, choice-based schooling. I highly recommend it. Amazingly, at least to me, PBS agreed to air the documentary, and in April it debuted on PBS stations around the country.

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Unsurprisingly, a chorus of critics are angered that PBS would air such a program. Media Matters for America seems to call for the outright censorship of any critique of public education on public television by wondering, “why would a public broadcast channel air a documentary that is produced by a right-wing think tank and funded by ultra-conservative donors, and that presents a single point of view without meaningful critique, all the while denigrating public education?” Diane Ravitch, a prominent critic of private schools, complains that “uninformed viewers who see this very slickly produced program will learn about the glories of unregulated schooling, for-profit schools, [and] teachers selling their lessons to students on the Internet,” but “what they will not see or hear is the other side of the story.” Now a petition has been started calling for PBS to air “the other side” of the story by showing the anti-private school film Backpack Full of Cash.

I have nothing against showing the “other side” to Andrew’s series, but we need to put this debate in context. When it comes to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the “other side” that doesn’t get heard is usually the conservative or libertarian side, and CPB has generally been deeply antagonistic to those ideas. That Ravitch and others are now the ones complaining is at least somewhat ironic.

But I do not want to denigrate their efforts. By its very nature, public broadcasting excludes viewpoints (airtime is finite) and requires citizens to speak up when they think something is unbalanced. But public broadcasting is unbalanced all the time. The Flat Earth Society did not get equal time to refute Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and creationists didn’t get airtime to refute The Ascent of Man.

The true source of bias occurs when certain ideas are labeled either “mainstream” or “extremist.” Extremist ideas don’t deserve airtime, but mainstream ideas do. That lesson was learned in the 70s when Milton Friedman and Bob Chitester fought to put Friedman’s 10-part, pro-free market documentary Free to Choose on PBS. Interestingly, School Inc. was produced by Free to Choose Media and Bob Chitester. Free to Choose Media funds and creates freedom-oriented videos and documentaries, and Bob Chitester has been fighting to put freedom-oriented ideas on PBS for almost five decades.

Read the source article at Cato Institute

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