Big Bird teaches all

Tanessa Dillard, Sports Editor
Tanessa Dillard, Sports Editor

Somewhere there is a street where children sing as high as the number 12 as a pinball moves to the rhythm of the music; a street where animal puppets and humans have things in common; a street where letters and numbers are themes for the day and people celebrate learning as a way of life.

That place is “Sesame Street.” It has helped children learn to count and say the alphabet since the 1960s. Who could complain?

In the autumn issue of City Journal, writer Kay Hymowitz took on the hourlong public television show. She said that instead of glorifying learning, the program glorifies television and culture.

According to her, the show is “an encyclopedia of TV forms: minute-long soap operas with sappy organ music to teach the importance of trees, imitation MTV videos with a punk Muppet hostess to teach the letter ‘N,’ talk shows, TV award ceremonies—you name it.”

Hymowitz suggested that such cultural references amuse adults but not young children, who overlook them.

Let them be amused, then. Illiteracy is not a problem that affects only children. Adults, too, often need help learning how to read or develop other skills, such as solving mathematical equations or getting along with others.

What difference does it make whether a child realizes a skit is a spoof? Skits do not leave children dumbfounded, saying, “I didn’t get it.” They do get it. A child will not analyze the show the way Hymowitz has done.

Perhaps “Sesame Street” aims to be hip, convincing children that it is a cool place to be. Take away the upbeat songs and dancing along with the celebrity guests, and the show becomes a bore.

Wrote columnist Mona Charen in support of Hymowitz’s claims, “‘Sesame Street’ is self consciously modeled on commercials, with fast cuts, jazzy music and very, very short segments. If your child cannot concentrate for more than 30 seconds, ‘Sesame Street,’ in marked contrast to other programs aimed at preschoolers like ‘Barney’ and ‘Mister Rogers,’ reinforces that.”

Charen and Hymowitz can both take note that “Sesame Street” is an hour-long show with no commercial breaks.

Any child who can sit through the entire program has a respectable attention span, indeed. If your child cannot sit still, do not blame “Sesame Street.” Big Bird had nothing to do with it.

Hymowitz called Bert the “only creature to bring an air of vague maladjustment to this manically upbeat show.”

First of all, an obvious comeback to such a claim can be summed up in three words: Oscar the Grouch. He is moody, tends to have a negative attitude about life in general and he has problems getting along with others. How could she bring Bert into the picture when there is another puppet with more problems?

Secondly, the show is filled with everyday problem-solving methods. Children learn how to share and work in groups. They learn how to take turns, how to be polite and how to play fairly. Yes, “Sesame Street” is upbeat. Should it be more downbeat instead?

Lastly, “Sesame Street” should not take the responsibility of raising every child. Adults cannot underestimate the intelligence of the preschool generation. They see problems everyday. They live through problems of their own.

It cannot be assumed that because an educational show chooses to make a number or letter the topic of the day, rather than a family problem or psychological condition, that the children will grow up thinking that no one else has anything to overcome.

To think that “Sesame Street” has survived in the age of Power Rangers, Nickelo­deon and violent television, simply proves that the program’s quality makes it an excellent learning tool for children, as well as adults.

Children have asked for years how to get to “Sesame Street.” Obviously, there is something there that keeps them coming back for more.

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