Saturday, February 19, 2011

How I Learned to Read and Think

I'm going to tell you a couple stories about random moments/things that are important to me and why. This will make sense in the end, I promise.

When I was four, my mom enrolled me in Head Start. I didn't know until I was much, much older that Head Start was a pre-school program specifically for lower-income families. That fact is still a bit confusing to me because for most of my life my family made just enough money that we didn't qualify for assistance programs and not enough to get most of the things that we would be wanting assistance for. I remember there was a summer program I wanted to attend when I was younger that I couldn't go to because we made just barely too much for me to qualify for a scholarship, but there was no way my parents could afford the tuition to send me.

Anyway, that's not the point of the story. The point is, that I have one very specific memory of Head Start, other than the vague memory of how much I loved my teacher. I was four years old, not yet really formally in school, and I remember reading a book on my own for the first time. It was a book about the color wheel, and my teacher actually let me keep it. I still have that book, because the fact that I'm a writer is owed partially to the fact that I'm a reader.

I am a reader partially because of Head Start. My parents and siblings of course also played a large role, but the simple fact is that Head Start is a program that worked for me. Reading a book on my own for the first time was a really big deal, and it happened at Head Start.

When I was a kid, I watched PBS obsessively. I adored Big Bird and the rest of Sesame Street. A few years ago, I went to see Jim Henson's Fantastic World at the Smithsonian. It was like my childhood put in a museum, everything I had loved was represented there.

But it was also eye-opening for me. I was watching the same sketches and videos I had seen on Sesame Street, but now realizing the lifelong associations those videos had given me. Those letters and numbers still lived in the world that Sesame Street had helped create for me, and that was how I remembered them even as I approached 30 years old.

I read about the underlying intentions that Henson had with his projects, how the producers of Sesame Street had realized that children could remember commercials better than they could anything else, and couldn't the same techniques used in those commercials be harnessed for good?

Mr. Rogers taught me different lessons, but he was a huge force in my life all the same. To this day I adore shows on TV that go into factories to show how things are made, and that started with him. But my real love was the land of Make-Believe. I live my life telling stories in one way or another, honing my imagination and trusting my own instincts for creativity. I got that from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

And we can't forget about Reading Rainbow. I mostly watched Reading Rainbow in school, but I can still sing the themesong now. I would go and find the books they talked about on the show in my school library and read them. When they would talk about a book I had already read, I would be as excited as if they were talking about me personally. I knew that book! That was a great book!

I learned Math from Square One Television, where I would be hooked to the storyline of Mathnet for the entire week, only to almost always end up missing the wrap-up episode on Friday. But I can't hear Fibonacci's Sequence without saying "1, 1, 2, 3, 5, EUREKA!" And whenever I see < and > I think of Mathman.

I learned geography from Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego (another theme song I can still sing). I watched Ghostwriter, 3-2-1 Contact, and Lambchop at various points in my life.

Now, as an adult, I'm a writer and a filmmaker. I try to incorporate science into a lot of my work, and I like being accurate about it. I think even education can entertain, and I try to do both as often as I can.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am the person I am today because of these early influences, both Head Start and PBS. I am smarter, more productive, more successful, and just a better member of society because I had them in my life.

Which is why I'm so upset that right now, in the name of supposedly HELPING the American public, the House of Representatives has voted to end funding for public broadcasting, and they are also attacking the funding for Head Start.

You know what I need my government to do for me right now? Help me find money to pay off the massive amount of student loans I had to undertake to get an education. I wouldn't mind an affordable health insurance plan so I wasn't paying for the ridiculous plan I get through school that doesn't actually cover anything so I'm not allowed to get sick. How about throwing some weight behind the Silver Line extension of the Metro so that I can start taking public transit? Not to mention that it would raise the property value of my house, which tanked right after I bought it. Have I mentioned we owe more than the house is "worth?"

But instead, congress is all twisted up in trying to take away two of the programs that have proven track records, that work beyond a shadow of a doubt. I don't mind paying taxes when I can see the benefits of my tax dollars. Through PBS and Head Start I didn't just SEE the benefits, I am living proof of them.

170 Million Americans For Public Broadcasting
Stroll In For Head Start