Come and Play…

Sharon November 18th, 2009

There was a lot of attention last week to Sesame Street’s 40th birthday.  For Eric and me, 39 and 37, well,  we just can’t remember a time when Sesame Street didn’t exist.  My family didn’t always have a television, but Sesame Street is one of my enduring childhood memories – and my parents liked it too.  My father sang the number songs to us – the Alligator King and his 7 sons, the 8 penny candy man, the 12 Ladybug picnic.  It was an often-present part of my childhood in all the places we lived – the apartment in New Haven, the housing project in Naugatuck, CT, the apartment in Lynn, MA.

None of these were affluent places, and one of the things I remember best about Sesame Street is that it looked like home – the stoops were a little worn looking, the people looked more or less like my neighbors, and did the same things urban, working class people seemed to do, except of course, for their strange obsession with the alphabet and the presence of muppets. 

Sesame Street tracked me even after I got too old for it.  My youngest sister, 7 years my junior, still watched, and I would pass by and find myself stopped in front of the “D” song again.  Then I went to college, and our Sesame Street memories would come up in conversation – there was something foundational about it for many of the people I knew. One friend remembered how she learned english, a new immigrant child, from Sesame Street, heartened by the fact that there were people with accents on the program. 

I know there’s a lot to be said against television, and I can agree with almost all of it – but I have a hard time thinking that Sesame Street did me any harm.  In fact, I think it was the opposite – and I admit, while we went into parenthood wanting to minimize television exposure, Sesame Street was a single exception.  Both Eric and I loved it, and we wanted our children to know Cookie Monster and have the same sense of familiar comfort.  Our debate about whether to allow the occasional video was ended when Eli, autistic, responded to television in ways he could not respond to human teaching – he learned to read from Sesame Street and Between the Lions.  The judicious application of Kermit was in.

The problem was that the Sesame Street we’d loved was gone.  By the time Eli was old enough to watch, Sesame Street had responded to pressure from cable and other sources of television and dumbed down.  Faced with more competition and pressure on public television, Sesame Street responded by choosing a much younger audience, shortening the required attention span, cutting back on real content and replacing it with a lengthy “Elmo’s Room” segment – and it had switched from telling kids “it is ok to live an ordinary, lower-class or lower-middle class lifestyle, that lifestyle has a culture that is valuable” and had started telling them, along with everyone else “it is good to be affluent.”

The first Sesame Street had begun with Stevie Wonder singing “Superstitition” and had encouraged, with in-jokes and smart material, parents to watch with their kids.  My father recounts sitting with my sister and I and hearing the Count tell children “I am the finest counter since formica!”  That’s gone from contemporary Sesame Street, which talks down to kids, and is intolerable to every adult I know. 

Now it is not wholly Sesame Street’s fault that these changes came about.  There are a lot fewer parents home to watch tv with their kids, so why spend time writing scripts that are compelling to adults?  Now kids as aged as four or five are “far too old” for something as slow paced as Sesame Street, and have long since graduated to more advanced material.  And the culture has suburbanized as well – now more than half of the world’s poor live in the suburbs.

But some of this was Sesame Street’s fault.  Consider the rise of  Elmo as an example.  Consider Elmo, if you can bear it.  Fully 1/3 of Sesame Street’s content was at one point devoted to the happenings in Elmo’s bedroom.  What do we see in Elmo’s room?  Well, first of all, he has a lot of private media – he has both a television and a computer in his own bedroom.  The drawn landscape outside his window is resolutely suburban.  His room is full of possessions, and Elmo rarely goes out of it in these segments – instead, he watches people demonstrate things on his tv, or through his computer.  When he wants to learn more about something, he doesn’t go to the library, but back to the computer – that is, his is a multiply-mediated experience.  By now, I’m sure he has a blackberry too.

There’s something really troubling about setting your three year old to watch a muppet watching something on tv.  What does that teach? What was valuable about Sesame Street to millions of children was that it mirrored their own material reality, and validated it, and said that they could learn in that context.  It said that your real home, small, not wealthy, often ethnic, not shiny, clean “American” but a mix, somewhat gritty, filled with people like you and unlike you in close proximity, hanging on stoops and out windows, was ok, and good, and a wonderful place to learn and grow.  It reminded us that community was more important than affluence – I knew suburban kids growing up in the 80s who envied Sesame Street.  It was one of the most powerfully formative counter-balances to the growing culture of white flight, suburbanization and the valorization of affluence.

Contrast the indoor sequences of Bert and Ernie with the indoor sequences of Elmo.  First, and most importantly, Bert and Ernie had each other – it is implied that Elmo lives with his parents, but the experience he offers is primarily solitary (with the occasional exception of  a guest that comes out of the closet) – people mostly appear through screens.  Bert and Ernie read books and interact, and Ernie drives Bert crazy – but they also care for each other.  Elmo interacts with a variety of animated household objects – lots of furniture and machinery, but no people – he loves his blankie, and his tv and his computer.   

It is true that many low income children do have tvs in their rooms – but Sesame Street presumably sets out to validate not pernicious trends, but good ones.  And we know from every sort of research that one of the worst possible things for children is for them to be left unsupervised with lots of media.  Ideally, no one would watch tv, perhaps.  But in a world where most people do, Sesame Street can at least be minimally expected to respond to that trend by emphasizing community – instead, they gave us Elmo and his room, and his private intimacy with the screen.

And that’s the big loss from Sesame Street over the years (we’ll skip over the depressing Abby Kadavy entirely here) – is that there’s no there there anymore.  As Sesame Street became more suburbanized – it added a playground, spiffed up and reduced the communal elements of its programming, it gave us a vision of childhood that is probably accurate, but empty of the culture that Sesame Street once offered.  And since by sticking to its past, Sesame Street had the chance to offer a vision of what we could get back – but instead, it accepted the emptying of culture into an affluent blank.  Moreover, we got the dumbing down of everything.

It is true that most neighborhoods don’t have as many people hanging out on stoops anymore. It is true that more parents are gone during the day, and more kids are alone with their media. It is true that community isn’t something we value anymore.  It is true that parents don’t let their kids out into the neighborhood as much anymore.  It is true that we hate anything that smacks of being poor, and we have a harder time imagining validating it.  And it is true that in some small respects, the actors and writers of Sesame Street have truly tried to make it possible for children to imagine a place where you play outside, where people talk to one another and help one another out. 

But in the main, Sesame Street gave up on its most basic message – which is “here are the things you need to know – that these numbers and letters are important – but also, that people are important, and how they live together are important, and how they get along is important,  but stuff isn’t important.”  The culture of low-income urban life was a communal culture at its root – people needed each other. I grew up in that culture – my mother babysat for the neighbors’ kids, they babysat for us, the big kids walked with the little ones to school, the parents shared tips and gave each other rides.  It wasn’t perfect or idyllic, but it was valuable and worth having – and the only way to live a good life in a place where no one had enough money – the community compensated.

The culture shift that overtook our society overtook Sesame Street.  It wasn’t acceptable to be poor – the backgrounds got shined up, and Elmo got rich.  The community stopped being the center of things – and an hour of fairly sustained, repeating narrative that covered a theme got shifted to short segments with a letter here and a number here, but no overarching context for the child’s mind to return to.  Elmo got his own spot, and so two and three year olds got to spend their time watching Elmo, in his room, a priveleged little boy with talking tv, watching more tv, so that things were happening only very faintly and far away.

The friendly neighbors, there, that’s where you meet – you don’t meet them as much anymore.  I admire Sesame Street for its ability to continue, and to preserve it’s cast – there’s a part of me that is pleased that the Maria of my childhood is still the Maria of my children’s childhood.  But as we head back to a time when then neighbors are more important than anything, when learning in community, and the ordinary acts of every day, low income life are more normative, I wish that Sesame Street had been able to continue in the courage of its own convictions – but maybe that’s asking too much.  Asking Sesame Street to keep valuing things that we as a society have not valued may be unfair.  And yet, that’s how it started.

Sharon

46 Responses to “Come and Play…”

  1. Audrey says:

    Yes, even my kids don’t like the “new” Sesame Street. They choose other shows quickly over it.

  2. I always found Sesame Street a bit too mawkish, and the Count got on my nerves, but would have never have had a problem letting our kids watch the version when I was young (it’s almost the same age as me). Not surprised at all about the changes, and if a little product placement just happens to sneak in, well that’s TV for you – it was, sadly, bound to happen.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Excellent post! I completely agree, and I miss the Sesame Street of my childhood as well–before Elmo’s world came along!

  4. Jade says:

    Growing up in the dry, rural parts of Colorado I was fascinated by the city life shown in Sesame Street. Look- actual stoops! And people really do gather on them, just like in the stories! And there’s a neighborhood grocer, and they like books too! I found myself looking for signs of weather and plants while marveling that they had asphalt to learn to ride bikes on and to thwack against while turning the jump rope. No clay cracks and dust.

    I’m disturbed to find things have changed so much for the worse. I feel like I’ve been the last one to discover a favorite uncle does crack and frequents whorehouses.

  5. dewey says:

    I figured Sesame Street had rolled over when they decided they had to drop the joke about people not believing Big Bird saw the Snuffleupagus because “it might discourage children from reporting sexual abuse” if adults were shown as not believing everything they were told, no matter how unlikely it sounded.

  6. Jenny says:

    We’ve been able to acquire videos of the “old School Sesame Street” for our kids. It’s a heck of a trip down memory lane and the kids love it. Can’t stand most of the new Sesame Street and was heartened to see that other adults have noticed the dumbing down of our beloved muppet friends. The interesting thing about the “old school” Sesame street is that it comes with a disclaimer that states that these episodes are intended for adults and may not meet the needs of today’s pre-school age kids.
    What a hoot!

  7. Laura in So Cal says:

    Yup,

    It is dumbed down. My 5 year old is too old for it now although he was a big fan at age 2-3. We still watch other PBS programming..like Word World and Sid the Science Kid.

    BTW, media in the bedroom is a big no-no at our house. This comes from my Dad who believed that only having 1 TV fostered family togetherness and negotiating skills. VCR’s didn’t come along until I was a teenager and I can still remember having to negotiate & trade with my parents and my sister to get to watch what I wanted on TV.

    Laura in So Cal

  8. I still get nauseated everytime I see Elmo. My older child had an Elmo toy he got from someone and I remember playing with it with him when I was pregnant with my daughter when I was having major morning sickness queeeze. Six years later and I still want to hurl. “Elmo’s going for a ride!” Retch!

  9. Erik says:

    Sad but true… our daughter got a lot more out of Between the Lions and even the occasional Bear in the Big Blue House – Not to mention the Schoolhouse Rock DVDs – than she did from the new “improved” Sesame Street; even at 4 she hated Elmo.

    Her deepest early-childhood TV memories, though, are definitely of the Little Bear cartoons (which I also loved, mostly because the lessons were *shown* rather than *told*). She scorns it now, of course, from the advanced age of 9 :) … but I’m keeping the DVDs and the episodes we recorded off TV, because she’s going to want them when she has kids.

  10. Jen says:

    I watched SS as a kid, but I didn’t have any big nostalgia towards it. So when I showed an episode to my older dd, we decided quickly it wasn’t our fave. I like things like School House Rock and all the 1960′s Disney movies, like Hans Christian Anderson with Danny Kaye (my kids love it too).

    We choose shows that depict imagination and positive relationships: Pinky Dinky Doo, Charlie and Lola and Little Einsteins are our favorites.

  11. Judy says:

    What a shame that Eli got gypped, Sharon. My autistic twins (now 32) loved the original. The teaching style was great for all kids — but the discrete bits of information presented with frequency, intensity and duration, was especially spot on for children with neurological issues. As I recall, one of the original writers had a son with Down Syndrome.
    And my neuro typical daughter picked up on a lot of the humor directed at adults. Sigh — we used to try to stretch those young minds.

    Anyway, I can remember feeling actual pain the day the ‘new’ Sesame Street happened to be on when I took a DVD out. The scene was, of course, Elmo in his room, and a really annoying digital voice repeating ad nauseum — ‘Elmos’ got mail’. Had I been a five year old sitting in front of that, I’d have thrown the first heavy object I could find at the screen after two minutes.

  12. Lisa Z says:

    I miss stoop-sitting! Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, I used to sit on the front stoop while my dear Grandpa sat in his lawn chair and hollored at the cars that didn’t come to a complete stop at his intersection.

    Years later, I was a Seminary student on my internship in a small town in Iowa. One of my first evenings in my new house (I actually got a house as an Intern Pastor!), I decided to sit on my front stoop as it was a beautiful evening. A couple drove by and probably thought I was lonely so they introduced themselves as church members and asked if I’d like to come to the football game with them that night. Turns out, he was the junior high band director and that night they introduced me to the high school band director after he directed the half-time show. I married that guy, and I’d like to say it’s all because I was out sitting on my front stoop one night.

    Some of my favorite parts of Sesame Street from my 70s childhood were the scenes at Mr. Hooper’s Store, and the one where the girl was sent to the store by her mother to get “a loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter…” You would never see anything like that these days, since we jail our kids in their houses. Yes, Elmo sitting in his room watching TV is much more realistic to kids’ lives these days, sadly.

    Here’s the video to the “loaf of bread…” scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jdP7HUPbVs

  13. mbm says:

    Ugh, Elmo’s World drives me up the wall! Here are the actual lyrics of the Elmo’s World song about hats (sung to the tune of Jingle Bells):

    Hats hats hats
    Hats hats hats
    Hats hats hats hats hats
    Hats hats hats
    Hats hats hats
    Hats hats hats hats hats…

    I guess they’re not hiring songwriters anymore? DD loves, loves, loves her Elmo doll, but I hate the thought of her watching him on TV.

    Also, the new claymation Bert and Ernie dream sequences are just weird.

  14. I thought it was just me getting old! I hadn’t watched Sesame Street in a very long time and somehow happened across it not so long ago. I thought, “This isn’t nearly as good as I remember it.” How lovely to realize that it’s not just me getting old. . . but how sad to realize that a great concept has been so “dumbed down.”

    Oh, and that episode with the butter and milk was one that I remember very well. Thanks for sharing the memory, Lisa.

  15. Wendy says:

    I never watched Sesame Street as a child. In fact, we didn’t even have a television until I was eight. So, I was a bit old for it, even back in the day.

    My children liked Sesame Street when they were younger, but at 12, 8 and 6, they’re too old for it, now, and they always preferred the cartoon PBS programs, anyway.

    I will say that Sesame Street gave me a valuable tool. When my children complained of monsters, I told them that there were no monsters … except the cookie monster (who, I understand, is now the veggie monster – so sad!)

  16. cecelia says:

    I think part of the issue was that the original Sesame St was specifically designed (and funded) for inner city kids. This is no longer true, in part because public television got to the point where government funding was significantly reduced and they had to rely on corporate, foundation or profit to fund.

    CTV – which makes Sesame Street – is now a big business with culture specific versions of Sesame Street all over the world, including the middle east.

    I thought Sesame Street had gone off track when they started licensing the characters. When tickle me Elmo was going for over 100$ you knew the original idea had been perverted.

  17. Helen says:

    There’s an interesting article on
    11/18/09 Yahoo.com about “Cash for Caulkers” ie home weatherization.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Sharon as usual, brings up many good points.
    I grew up in a fairly poor town in coastal Maine and Sesame Street looked like the urban equivalent of where I grew up (at one point I was one of three kids in my class not getting free/reduced lunch because of factory closings and I was the only person I knew that both parents graduated college) with the local store where everybody bought stuff, the houses looked tired and everybody played outside.
    I didn’t like the licensing of characters for every material thing possible to begin with and I can’t stand current Sesame Street- I was shocked last week at how much it had changed when I was desperately looking for a good show for my daughter so I could lie down when my husband and I were both leveled with a flu like illness at the same time. She has now had a full 90 minutes of television at almost 14 months old and 10 minutes were Sesame Street. She loved Schoolhouse Rock and we got to take a nap.
    I will have to check out the DVDs of the old shows for the next time the adults are ill.

  19. Stephanie says:

    When Abby Cadabby came on is when I turned it off. Yuck.

  20. everything is dumbed down now—from our schools to our jobs, to tv and newspapers—it is all more demeaning and less educational.

    I have 2 bachelors degrees (one math, one education) and I am working on finishing my masters. I still had to sit through a 2 hour meeting today on how to make teaching more “fun” and “exciting” for kids in this “new generation of learning.” BLAH. I’d just like someone to treat me like I actually know what I’m doing. Public education is not the place for it, evidently.

  21. Lauren says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I have such fond memories of Sesame Street. My dad LOVED Alistair Cookie’s Monsterpiece Theater and its showing of “Me, Claudius” from the original Sesame Street. He still laughs about that to this day.

    I think there are a few decent educational shows out there: “Super Why!” and “Dinosaur Train” on PBS are both excellent. But, they’re animated, and I don’t love that idea…

  22. Zach Frey says:

    Sharon,

    Thank you. Just… thank you. For saying it and making me not feel crazy for starting to hate the show I loved as a (slightly older than you and Eric) child.

    peace,
    Zach

  23. Tree says:

    Well,
    I wonder if the death of Jim Henson has a lot to do with the show’s descent.

    Wikipedia: “Jim Henson was the performer for several well known characters, including Kermit the Frog, Ernie, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, The Swedish Chef, Waldorf, Guy Smiley, Link Hogthrob, and the Muppet Newsman”

    I figured the characters could not be the same without their creator….

    Tree

  24. I reckon you could be right, Tree. Jim Henson was a well-known maverick, and slipped an awful lot of hidden messages into The Muppet Show. That was one TV programme that everyone “got”, whatever their age.

  25. Lorna says:

    My children watched SS a little, although I thought it was a bit frenetic in pace. We were more of a Mr. Roger’s Neighhborhood family. We cried when we heard that he died.

  26. Ed Straker says:

    I do wonder what the show would be like if Jim Henson were still running things. But really, even if SS were the same as the 1970s, how much influence would it have? The media that Elmo has in his room is what ever kid has to pick from. Sesame Street is only one part of that. And so it just doesn’t have the monopolistic mindshare that it and the other PBS shows did back in the day (Electric Company, Mister Rogers).

    BTW, people who are still living in an urban environment today aren’t necessarily sitting on their brownstone steps and talking to their neighbors. Lack of community is really a sociological thing, not really the “fault” of suburbia.

  27. Brad K. says:

    Sharon,

    I think one of the important aspects of Sesame Street is that it was almost always a public channel presentation. No commercials to break up the presentation.

    I contend that the short stories on TV and the distracting, “bright” commercials with their short, out of context messages intended to be noticed, are one of the reasons so many children have attention problems in school and in life.

    If what you observe is so, that Sesame Street has moved to shorter segments – that makes them more like the problem than the cure.

    While research shows reading with your children helps with attitude, bonding, culture, discipline, attention, and character, I think blaming TV, as media, is overstating the problem. Watching DVD movies contributes much less to the problem – even if it is Barney, again. It is the short segments, and especially commercials, that distort and disable attention span and thinking, and probably even problem solving.

    Observing that students that participate in band tend to do well in life, might just be another exercise in patience, persistence, and extended attention. Almost as good as a shared couple of afternoon hours weeding the garden.

    Of course, weeding the garden allows enough time to work through more of the questions that lurk about the mind, for both parent and child.

    Surely, somewhere, there is an archive of the first years of Sesame Street. So just like children around the world, there may be hope for future children as well. Just pick the channel (DVD/YouTube) that carries the early years.

  28. Edward Bryant says:

    I read the entire essay thinking; I one the sandbox, I two the sandbox…you ATE the sandbox!?

    As a long-time “Burt”, I really enjoyed SS even after I was too old to watch it. To this day, Muppet Treasure Island is one of my favorite movies; (though I keep waiting for Tim Curry to sing “Lets do the Time Warp Again”).

    Thanks for the memories Sharon.

  29. Kay in Wisconsin says:

    I grew up on SS and as a nanny up until 4.5 years ago I got to see the newer version, and I am in total agreement with you, Sharon. My four-year old son hasn’t seen any TV at all, nor any videos/movies. He has an amazing attention span, a wonderful imagination and an incredible vocabulary and I think it’s at least partly because he doesn’t watch any media. We read a LOT and he’s always stopping me to ask a question about a word or a concept in the book. It’s hard for me not to brag that my son is TV-free but I’m pretty darn proud of it.

  30. TLE says:

    I adored SS too – my mum & dad watched with us, and explained why they were laughing at some of the ‘grown-up’ jokes. I used to love Grover’s slapsticky sequences, and Kermit’s ‘reportage’ on fairytales as breaking news. Sad to hear it’s dunmbed down – but there is a lot of great kid’s TV still around. Aardman animations are brilliant!

  31. Sharon says:

    Ed, I agree, although the diverse urban neighborhoods I lived in as recently as a 8 years ago looked a lot more like Sesame Street than Suburbia. In Lowell, MA, my husband and I and our then-new baby Eli had precisely that experience, for example.

    Sharon, whose baby is now 9 1/2

  32. Chad says:

    We watch the 1st episode last night. Oscar was ORANGE! and they had a clip of kids playing in a bunch of trash and climbing through an old culvert! I love it!

  33. Kate in NY says:

    My parents have a stash of “classic” SS videos – they bought them for my oldest son (now 13) for visits. When I heard one of the segments, my heart stopped – two little girls are playing dollhouse and a cat gets into the house and starts spilling everything and knocking over the furniture, while the girls giggle and the lovely song (“two little girls, one little cat, in a little dollhouse”) plays on. I remember vividly watching that segment with my little sister – so sweet and simple, even ordinary.

    We stopped watching SS by the time my youngest (now 6) came along. It had lost all its charm. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I think I actually prefer “Spongebob” these days. It’s kind of trashy and hardly educational, but it has an odd sweetness to it that so many other kids’ shows lack. Funny – I just realized that my spellcheck has no problem with the word “Spongebob!”

  34. Deb says:

    I did not grow up with Sesame Street–I was in high school when it came out and was oblivious to it because we had no little ones in the house.

    We watched exactly one show and turned it off—I really didnt like the 30 second sound bite format that most of it had. It seemed like a training exercise in how not to pay attention to anything for very long. We were also Barney free and only occassionally watched Mr. Rogers. No Saturday morning cartoons either. Instead we read books together, looked at pictures in magazines, drew pictures, played cards, built Lego cities, did chores, helped Dad work on the house and car etc etc. On Sunday nights we had popcorn and Nature on PBS or popcorn and a movie–that was the extent of the TV use in our house.

    I have a very clear memory of my son coming home from 1st grade and explaining to me that he HAD to watch TV because otherwise he didnt have anything to talk about with the other kids at school during lunch. I just felt so sad for the other kids.

    At 22 and 19, neither one of the kids much cares for TV unless it’s some special on PBS or something like the Olympics. They have too much else to do.

  35. marta says:

    Hi!
    My family only owned a tv set when I was 11 (and my brothers 9 and 6) and we never got to watch Sesame Street when we were little children. I am not even sure whether it was on Portuguese television… Later on there have been newer, local produced versions, but with these we were already too old to watch.

    Now that I have children of my own (9, 7 and 4), we’ve agreed on setting strict limits on what and for how long they can watch. Up til last year, more or less, they’d just watch videos – movies and documentaries. Then they began watching channels – they watch The Simpsons, Pine Hollow (girls and horses, Canadian-Australian show) and the magnificient Phineas&Ferb. On average they watch 30 minutes/day, max 45 minutes (weekdays) and 2 hours for each of the weekend days (which I tend to think is already too much).
    Although none of these shows has a specific educational goal, I think they all have a pretty good grasp on what community is nowadays in most of the suburban US. And from an European standpoint, I’d say, it doesn’t look necessarily , or always, bad, either.

    The reality around here in Europe is different. Inner city living is still considered middle and upper-middle class (if the flat is renovated) or just indisctinctly, (if it isn’t – people rent, traditionally, they’ve only been buying in the last 20 years or so). Suburban, on the other hand, is a late 60s/early 70s novelty, it is middle and lower-middle class; urban is densely packed streets with flats and stores, suburban is high-rises and indoor malls. So community, having a different landscape, is also different.

    Things are turning very US-like (or were, before this recession) in the sense that now you need the car to get anywhere outside of the old city centres, public transport is not very effective outside of most city centres, people crave for a lawn patch and a garage even if it’s in the outer suburbs (no space left in the suburbs…) etc etc. People start losing their ties to their birthplaces – cities, neighbourhoods – and start anew not on a wild territory but amidst highways and closed gates…
    Here’s hoping that true community never loses it’s comfort meaning!

    Marta from Lisbon, Portugal

  36. MEA says:

    Just for laughs…

    My mum wouldn’t let us watch SS because she thought the people on it were rude and shouted at each other.

  37. Claire says:

    Jane Healy in Endangered Minds had a whole chapter entitled Sesame Street and the Death of Reading. The book was published in 1990, so she’s referring to the early Sesame Street. Her point is that too many things happen too fast to support real learning, the supposed purpose of the program. That doesn’t necessarily negate anything Sharon or others said about the cultural aspects of Sesame Street from their lived experience. I think it suggests that Sesame Street, or at least the early episodes, didn’t succeed for the purpose it was funded for, though it may have succeeded in other aspects like those Sharon and others mentioned.

    I saw the early episodes of Sesame Street because my youngest brother was born in 1970, and he watched them. I was in my early teens at the time and personally preferred Electric Company, although I can still recite the song about the number 11 (“It’s a lovely 11 morning …”) from Sesame Street.

  38. Adrienne says:

    As a kid, I loved SS, and watched with my younger brother even when I was “too old” for it. Watching it a couple of years ago with my kids, it _really_ bothered me that when Elmo wanted to find out more information about something, he turned on the TV. Apparently his room is not equipped with bookshelves.

  39. debra says:

    i loved sesame street. it makes me sad to see the episodes my brothers and i enjoyed so much come with warning labels now. sesame street with “not for children” labels. who would have ever dreamed it? if mr. hooper died today, would they tell the kids or would he, like mr noodle, be replaced with a “brother” by the same name? this year i’ll be purchasing a few of the episodes i remember best and… warning labels be damned… my kids and i will sit down together and watch them.

  40. megan says:

    I was born in 1980 and grew up on Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and Reading Rainbow. They made me want to try new things, meet new people–and learn. I was ecstatic to go to school and read and write and find out why things do what they do and are what they are. Maybe it’s just my cynicism, but I don’t see that in as many children today. Almost all of the shows on PBS seem to be dumbed down and aimed at very young children now.

    And can we talk about the garish color palette? When did primary colors become “out”? All of those awful pinks give me a headache.

  41. Paula Hewitt says:

    my big problem with SS is it teaches kids to end the alphabet x,y, zee – not x,y,zed ;)
    Playschool – an Australian show for preschoolers – has been around about as long as SS and continues its slowpaced format, handmade props (toilet rolls, cardboard boxes etc) the presenter reading a story from an *actual* book, but even it has bowed a bit to ‘modernisation’. and there was a furore a few years ago over a brief clip with a kid with two mummys (moms not ancient Eyptians)

  42. Anna Marie says:

    Happy nostalgia aside, I’m not all that convinced that letting kids watch any television is a great idea. Definitely not before the age of 2 as it inhibits language development because kids aren’t talking to their parents, but are sitting spell bound in front of TV programmes that are increasingly frenetic.

    It will be interesting to see who is the first researcher who makes connections between the increasing occurrence of ADHD and TV watching among young children. Kids are now even parked in front of the TV whilst in daycare, spending 1/3rd of their waking lives in front of the TV
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h7-rfWGFLkA6JDu6LWXc9PKA47wgD9C51TDO0

    It is entirely possible to live with no television in the house; our ancestors did it for thousands of years. It seems people use it as a cheap babysitter.

  43. dan vie says:

    there is a great film documenting the community creation of SS around the world, and how the content development is designed based on cultural interests.

  44. Sharon says:

    Anna Marie – I agree it is entirely possible to live without tv, and would never try and convince anyone otherwise.

    That said, however, I grew up in a family where there was no tv in the home for most of my childhood (we had a tv for about six months, which is where my sesame street memories come from, that and visits to grandparents), and I found that it had a forbidden fruit quality for us, which I’m not sure is healthy either. People may have lived without tv for most of human history, but they mostly didn’t live without it when tvs were everywhere ;-) .

    I also don’t distinguish, as many people do, between tv and film, or the internet, for that matter. It always surprises me when people say “oh, we don’t have tv” but they take their kids to movies, which are a physically and mentally even more encompassing experience – after all, while watching Sesame Street on a video at home, the kid can also be fighting with their sister ;-) , not so much at the theater.

    Sharon

  45. shaunta says:

    My daughter will be five in a couple of weeks. She loves Sesame Street. LOVES. Of course I’ve noticed that it isn’t the same as the Sesame Street I grew up with. But there is no denying that this kid is a Seasame Street kid. What I’ve found totally fascinating, is that instead of making Ruby want a TV and computer in her bedroom, the biggest impact the show has had on Ruby is to encourage an interest in puppets. She loves them. She makes them, and makes up shows with them.

    I have three kids, and a TV. My older two are teenagers, one of whom has autism, that I raised as a single mother. There were times I prayed for one or both of them to sit and zone in front of the TV for an hour…a half-hour…hell, ten minutes. The TV is on, but there is no sitting there entranced. There never has been for any of the kids. My teenagers now will sometimes sit and watch a show or a movie, but still don’t just do the couch potato thing.

  46. Saul Wanca says:

    I will quite simply say you actually come up with several great ideas and I will publish a number of creative ideas to add in briefly.

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