Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

On this day in 1969, Sesame Street premiered. For fascinating insights on what the show's creators tried to do, go to today's posting on The Writer's Almanac. I love that the shows creators were trying to give disadvantaged children an advantage through the use of television. They knew that kids were going to be watching television, so they tried to create television that would nourish the intellect, while also being fun enough that children would actually crave the show.

It worked spectacularly. I should know. I was one of the earliest viewers. If I didn't see the very first show, I tuned in soon afterwards. I loved it. I was four years old, and I'm sure my stay-at-home mom loved it too, because it gave her a chance to grab a nap or to get a head start on dinner.

My parents read to me every day, so it's hard to know what fostered my early literacy most. I do know that by first grade, I could read beyond grade level. I remember a writing exercise that frustrated me. I wanted to use a word that ended in a silent e, but I knew we hadn't learned about those words yet, so I couldn't decide whether or not to risk it. I remember risking it, and the teacher getting mad at me, but that might be a false memory. Would a teacher really have been angry at a precocious child?

Why yes, that has been my experience throughout my schooling. Do what the teacher expects and get gold stars. Stretch the boundaries and get letters sent home. So, I quickly learned to read the system, so to speak. I've had some teachers who were more adventurous, and I thrived. With the ones that wanted to play by a strict lesson plan, I could deliver what they wanted quickly, and then turn to my own reading, writing, and life of the imagination.

Sesame Street fostered that sense of wonder, a world where your friend could be a big bird, a world where various classes and races mingled. I might even go further and argue that our own semi-post-racial world is due to Sesame Street. Some of the most beloved human characters on that show were Latino or African-American. It's what the social scientists tell us: it's harder to discriminate against whole groups of people if we've met individual members of the group. Sesame Street made the viewer feel like we knew those people.

I've watched the show periodically throughout the years, and it holds up well. After a hard day at work, my spouse and I have even been known to actually choose to watch those PBS shows. They're amusing and delightful, even when we already know the lessons that they're trying to teach.

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