Fifty years ago the federal government created the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio and gave them the mission of educating children and informing adults over the public airwaves. PBS went on to become the most trusted institution in America, one offering resources rivaling those of great museums. It delivers its acclaimed programs coast to coast at no cost to viewers and small cost to taxpayers. Here’s how two government-supported organizations educated and informed millions at the flick of a switch.
No law before or since has changed the built environment as much as the Americans with Disabilities Act and yet done so in ways so subtle as to be unnoticed by most. But if you are in a wheelchair—or are pushing a stroller or dragging wheeled luggage—you’ve benefited from its changes, which make America a fairer and more accessible place for millions of adults and children.
Every state has some form of vocational education, which is often called career and technical education. But this vital public service suffers from too many providers and not enough supply. This is a casebook example of how government could do a better job, if a leader would step forward. And it may be that only the federal government could play that leading role, as it did in the late 1800s in shaping American colleges and universities.
Cities began building playgrounds in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way of getting young children out of traffic and older ones away from delinquency. In time, the physical spaces were joined by recreation programs organized by nonprofit organizations. Today, it’s not only children who use America’s publicly owned playgrounds, athletic fields, parks, and streams. Tens of millions of adults do, too. And for our access to inexpensive recreation, we can thank government.
Public education was based on three tenets: that every child should be in school until adolescence, that schools should be free to attend, and that government should pay for them through taxes. And behind the tenets was the belief that our political and economic systems depended on citizens who could read and write. The results have been historic, as literacy has spread today to nearly every adult. For this monumental achievement, you can thank government.