Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned on Sesame Street
As a child of the 60’s I was part of the very first generation to grow up watching Sesame Street. You see, back in the old days when I was a kid and Snuffleupagi roamed the planet, there were only 3 networks on TV – plus PBS. There was no “Cartoon Network.” There were no DVD’s of your favorite movies. There sure as heck weren’t any streaming services. In fact, there was no internet or wi-fi or microwave ovens……
I’m going to stop now. You get the point. I’m OLD.
And as hard as this is for today’s parents to imagine, our mothers mostly stayed home with us full time, but they mostly wanted nothing to do with us. “Quality time” had not been invented since “quantity time” was so prevalent. Wasn’t it enough that your kids were under your feet 24/7? Were moms actually supposed to interact with them? My mother certainly didn’t think so. She had more important things to do than entertain me, so she parked my in front of the television set and told me to stay out of her way. But that was a more innocent time. There was no chance of me stumbling across an “R” rated movie. So, I was left to watch TV for hours on end. Lucky for me, there was Sesame Street.
Sesame Street was the brainchild of Muppet creator Jim Henson and the Children’s Television Workshop. It was founded to provide educational programming for inner city kids, but we suburban dwellers loved it as well. It recently turned 50 and became the first TV Show ever awarded the Kennedy Center Honor. For me, it was a lifeline. A color filled window into a magical world where everyone was happy and respectful of one another’s feelings. I learned more watching that show than I did in kindergarten. But here is my top 10 list:
- How to read. Sesame Street was the original hooked on phonics. Each day was sponsored by a different letter. Each one was sounded out by monsters on the screen. 40 hours a week of that for a couple of years and it was ingrained in me. I had a set of plastic letters that I could move around, and one day I discovered that I was able to recreate words based on what I learned. It gave me a huge boost starting school already literate.
- How to count. I can even do it in Spanish! Just don’t ask me to go higher than 10!
- Cookies are awesome! A round donut with a bite out of it may look like a “C,” but it’s still not as good as a cookie!
- You don’t have to be happy all the time. Everyone is mourning the death of Carrol Spinney and paying tribute to the man who created Big Bird. But my favorite was always Oscar the Grouch (which pretty much tells you what I was like as a kid.) He was mean and cranky and yelled at everyone. But he was still a part of the hood and everybody loved him. We live in a society that rewards optimists. People are always telling you to “stay positive!” and “Smile!” Oscar taught me that I didn’t have to do that. I could feel how I felt and people would still like me.
- Racial tolerance. Sesame Street was a neighborhood full of people of all colors living together with a bunch of monsters, and yet everybody managed to get along.
- Sing! Singing is great and it makes you feel happy, so sing out loud and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.
- One of these things is not like the other. As much as we try to fit in, sometimes it’s painfully obvious that something is different (but that’s still OK)
- Roommates are really annoying. How Bert and Ernie have stayed together for 50 years is beyond me. Let’s face it, Bert is a little high strung and he has a weird fascination with pigeons. And Ernie has a stupid laugh and still plays with a rubber duckie. And I’m going to take their word for it that they’re not gay because Sesame Street also taught me not to pry into other people’s sex lives.
- It’s not easy being green. Before this became an environmental slogan, Kermit’s theme song was a reminder that sometimes it’s hard being different, but we all feel that way from time to time. Embrace it. Because who doesn’t love Kermit?
- Adults won’t believe you when you tell them you saw a furry, brown elephant. When I was a kid, Mr. Snuffleupagus drove me nuts! Big Bird could see him! The kids could all see him! But whenever the adults came around, Snuffy shuffled out of camera range. The character was originally conceived as Big Bird’s imaginary friend. But time passed and the world changed, and the show’s producers realized that perhaps they were sending a bad message to kids. After all, you don’t want kids thinking their parents won’t believe them when they’re telling the truth! So, in 1985 (long after I grew too old for the show) Snuffy had his big coming out party. All the adults finally met him and apologized to the children and Big Bird. Bob even told them “From now on, we’ll believe you whenever you tell us something.” Sadly, it’s been my experience that adults DON’T always believe their children when they report abuse. High profile cases like the Larry Nassar trial have proven that we still have a long way to go on believing the victims. Maybe Sesame Street can do a special episode on THAT.
In the years since I was a kid, Sesame Street has dealt with much heavier issues like death, autism, immigration and homelessness. But it’s still teaching a new generation how to read and count and sing. And most important, how to get along with each other in spite of our differences. And isn’t that the most important lesson of all?