Ah, the election. Once every four years our citizens are subjected to so much spin that we have vertigo by election day. I will absolutely not get into politics here, but I will dive into kerfuffle about Sesame Street and government funding for PBS.
I was one of the first generations of kids for whom Sesame Street was a staple of childhood. I knew Mr. Snuffleupagus when he was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. I saw neighborhood antics go down at Mr. Hooper’s store when Mr. Hooper still ran the store. That probably makes me biased in favor of Sesame Street, but I can’t deny the affect it has on my boys. We watch the show together, and I see the increased vocabulary, the heightened curiosity, and the fun they find in the whimsy of the program.
Do my kids absorb knowledge from places other than Sesame Street? Absolutely! The vast majority of their learning is not from television, which is how it should be for all kids. But when the TV is on, we can all agree that our little nuggets should be watching something with redeeming value. Sesame Street is one of a very small group that conducts longitudinal studies of the educational impact of their show. Their results are something that Spongebob will never have.
As impressive as the results are, Sesame Street will not and should not replace preschool or reading to your children. It can, however, make a positive impact on kids who really need it. All you have to do is Google the phrase “word gap” and you’ll see why. In a nutshell, children of white-collar parents are exposed to an average of 32 million more words by age four than their peers who grow up in welfare homes. There is a direct correlation between that word gap and level of educational achievement. If Elmo can expose these students to weather terminology, if the Count can help kids tally 19 Halloween pumpkins, if Murray can teach children about how insects use camouflage–that’s good for all of us.
In the Presidential debate, it was suggested that the reduction in funding for PBS would be made up by adding commercials to the programming. I can tolerate an ad for fabric softener during Downton Abby, but I really can’t get behind commercials during Sesame Street. This hour is one of the few places children can watch TV and learn–without being pandered to by toy and junk food corporations. Isn’t that worth something?
There’s something about Sesame Street that sticks with children. For me, it was Ladybug Picnic, the marbles racing through the pinball-esque track to the number of the day, the Twiddlebugs, and this video short about milk. I have no idea why the milk video is still fresh in my mind almost 40 years later. Maybe it’s something about the cold, snowy morning. The hungry baby crying in her crib with an empty bottle. The haunting soundtrack — who knows? One of the comments on You Tube called this the “Citizen Kane of short films about milk,” which is both hilarious and true. That’s the magic of Sesame Street. It embraces the child and becomes a part of childhood like nothing else on TV. Why on earth would we pollute that with ads for Totino’s Pizza Rolls?