By Sarah Craig
Look at you, you’re in college now. You use impressive, pretentious words like lugubrious that you found one night while reading the dictionary. But before you could even attempt to pronounce that mouthful, you needed the building blocks. Obviously, we learned those by sitting through school, but there’s another source that was educating us even before then. And that education came in the guise of a big yellow bird.
Back in the day, when we didn’t know who the president was and didn’t really care. Back when the hardest decision we had to make was what kind of juice we wanted to drink at snack time. This is the time when Sesame Street reigned in our lives. You can’t get much more old school than Sesame Street: the big kahuna–errr, bird, when it comes to child education.
The show has been instructing children since November 1969 when it first premiered. That means that Sesame Street has been there to hold the hand of three consecutive generations of children, with an estimated 75 million American children having watched over the years. In all, it has tallied 36 seasons with an episode count around 4,134, making it one of the longest running shows in the history of television. The first series alone has been shown in over 120 countries and over 20 international versions have been produced. If this hasn’t impressed you yet, take into consideration the 109 Emmy Awards it has earned.
Sesame Street was the first of its breed to develop the idea of teaching children not only morals and good manners, but also letters, numbers and other elementary basics. It introduced them to issues, circumstances and events in an assortment of topics, that they would otherwise most likely not encounter for years. Recent issues that one wouldn’t expect being discussed on a kid’s show are deployment for war and Hurricane Katrina.
Mary Michaelow, a junior journalism major, shadowed at Sesame Street and explained how they’re, “helping [kids] wrap their two- or three-year-old minds around the idea that natural disasters can happen and it’s not something to totally freak out about.” Sesame Street has just the right blend of academics and life lessons for children to prepare them for school and everything that awaits them beyond.
Michaelow explained how much the people at Sesame Street love their jobs because of the sense of making a difference it gives them. “They’re aware that they’re part of something so much bigger than Elmo and Big Bird, they’re part of educating tomorrow’s future.”
Sesame Street really had a hand in helping mold us to the intellectual level we are at today. I’m not saying that any As received weren’t due to a student’s own hard work in class, or that every time a test is failed that kids’ shows are to blame. But Sesame Street definitely set us down the learning path and helped shape the way we take in knowledge. In a study that involved 500 children, results proved as teenagers they had higher grades, read more books and were higher achievers than those teenagers who hadn’t watched Sesame Street, according to The Washington Post.
Sesame Street nowadays is much the same as it has been for years. Michaelow believes one of their strengths is their ability to adapt to current issues. There have been a few tweaks in characters: Our beloved Cookie Monster still obsesses over cookies but now has the occasional fruit or vegetable here and there in order to promote an anti-obesity theme. New characters have also joined the cast of famous muppets: In the South African Version, an HIV positive muppet was added to the show in order to illustrate that kids with HIV are no different than those without.
Launched in March 2008, Sesame Street‘s newest branch is based in Northern Ireland and known as Sesame Tree. There, two new muppets encourage kids’ curiosities by going on quests to discover the answers to questions sent in by viewers while promoting openness and cooperation in a country that has a history of troubles in those areas.
We owe a lot to Sesame Street. Nowadays, Sesame Street is such a celebrated icon that even Barack Obama has been said to have a lot in common with Big Bird in promoting the “Sesame Street” message of acceptance and empathy. So there you have it–all these years and Sesame Street is still ‘in’. So go ahead you big-shot college student. Indulge yourself and admit with pride, “I watched Sesame Street when I was young. And I loved every minute of it.”
Sarah Craig is a sophomore journalism major. E-mail her at scraig1[at]ithaca.edu.