With so much that is going on in the world today, our days are quite busy. However, the important things around us which create a true and lasting impression on the lives of many are those which exist quietly, without much recognition and acknowledgement.
Last Tuesday, it was quietly during a news programme (foreign), that I learned that one of the most stimulating and educational shows on television today, has turned forty. It being the longest-running programme in US television history (and perhaps the world), over four thousand shows – each bringing quality educational entertainment to the young and old – and forty years of making education fun. But I became sad too; sad because ‘Sesame Street’ is not aired on any of our television stations in Guyana; sad because our televisions today are bombarded with garbage and the utter trash which they call ‘children’s programming.’ Could this then be a reflection of the society which we have now and that which is yet to come, since today’s children are tomorrow’s future leaders?
It took eight million dollars in 1966 to conduct a study which would answer to the demands of a growing US population – a learning population. The needs of learning and education had to be catered for, through which the poor and low-income families had access to educational material on television, which was a growing fad back in those days. Millions more were spent and more studies done. In the end, a show which educated the young minds through offering them good moral values, love and affection through the TV screen by using Jim Henson’s puppets, and other vital skills which would enable them to interact with the changing times, ‘Sesame Street’ was born. It would change the world of television forever.
The show was considered a ‘living laboratory,’ whereby tests and improvements were constant to cater for all types of young minds, to get the right message in the right manner to the right target audience: children and their parents. Writers of the show and social scientists co-mingled to do just that. They even conducted tests to determine whether the show captured children’s attention and what aspect of the show did that effectively as opposed to others.
Sadly, though, ‘Sesame Street’ today has been overrun by other shows in its genre which have stolen the hearts and minds of the young viewers the world over. With more variety to choose from today, ‘Sesame Street’ has almost been skimmed over and has gone out of the traditional limelight which it enjoyed in the days of its inception. A British study in 2001 placed ‘The Simpsons’ at number one for the best children’s TV shows. ‘Sesame Street’ placed a distant thirty- two. Who would have thought it? Sadly kids today would dauntingly choose ‘Pokemon,’ ‘Ben Ten’ and other shows of the kind over ‘Sesame Street.’ Maybe that is why TV stations pulled it off their schedules a few years ago. The two aforementioned shows are two half hours being wasted, honestly.
‘Sesame Street’ was not all about fictition. From time to time, it echoed the various world events which have, over the years, affected children and their perception of situations and even the world around them during those ‘difficult’ times. Hurricanes, 9/11 and deaths have all been delicately brought on and dealt with in the most simple of terms to the millions of children affected by same during those periods. It did incorporate reality with the fairytale-like elements of television viewing in those days – it still does! Michelle Obama added her mark to the plethora of celebrity names and personnel who have made a lasting impression on the show when called upon by the writers and producers. They realize the role they have to play as adults with a mission to join in the education of children.
The show has taught over a quarter of the US population to read, count, deal with emotional issues and the universal message of love and kindness over its forty-year run. It reaches millions of homes around the world every single week, sadly though, none in Guyana. With so much it has accomplished, there is certainly no other children’s show that matches longevity, cultural penetration or global reach. It has served as an effective tool which cohabits with the educational system of a country.
Yes, every day the dozens of people at the Children’s Television Workshop turn up to work and do it all over again because they know that their efforts play a major role in the educational development of thousands of children. According to MSNBC News, the show averaged over five million viewers each week last season. One notable study also revealed that adolescents who watched the show as preschoolers had higher grades and spent more time reading for enjoyment than those teens who didn’t watch the show.
Today, our world is so hostile and unreal in some instances. So many innocent children are suffering from the influx of unhealthy and questionable standards that are present on many TV shows which go under the label ‘children’s programming.’ They have misled viewers and children alike. The television has also come under heavy criticism by parents and other members of the society as a tool which has been responsible for the detrimental behaviours of young people in our midst. That belief is indicative of the fact that many stations have chosen poorly, (as if there were no other choices) when it comes to the television functioning as a pivotal tool to educate the nation. I will talk about the daily butchering that the English language goes through later. This show portrays a ‘safe’ world; a street where millions of children long to call home forty years and counting.
Leon Jameson Suseran