Favorite

'Sesame Street' A-OK 

click to enlarge VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • via Wikimedia Commons

Like most of us who've come to find a home at the front of a classroom, a series of teachers from whom we've had the joy to learn serve as ongoing inspirations and role models. Starting in first grade and continuing through my graduate studies, I can quickly identify more than a dozen individuals whose beat and lyrics I continue to sample in small and large ways in my teaching today. But I never had personal interaction with one of my most important teachers. That's because it was a television program.

A fascinating study released this week provides clear evidence that I'm not alone in receiving lasting, positive impact from "Sesame Street." Economists from the University of Maryland and Wellesley College compared those with access to "Sesame Street" in its earliest years to those without access. It began to air in late 1969 (it makes a nice cameo in the final hours of "Mad Men" as Joan's son — about the same age as me — is entranced by the program) and an average of 5 million kids a day watched the program during its height of popularity. In that era, "Sesame Street" — the first program centered on prepping kids to start school — appeared mainly on PBS stations regularly located on UHF (ultra-high frequency) channels; most television sets at that time did not have the capability to dial beyond Channel 13, where UHF stations were located. This created a natural experiment allowing comparison of kids who grew up in places where "Sesame Street" was only a UHF phenomenon and those — like me — who had ready access to the program because it was on a VHF station (KETS, Channel 2 out of Conway).

The study shows that kids with "Sesame Street" as part of their lives have had significantly more success in school across several decades than those denied interactions with Oscar, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie by the accident of geography. Kids who lived in areas where "Sesame Street" was readily available in those early years showed up ready to learn and have continued to learn across their lives. The economists focus on the measurable educational benefits of the program, emphasizing that a relatively small amount of spending (on a per-child basis) accrued dramatic positive outcomes. "It's encouraging because it means we might be able to make real progress in ways that are affordable and scalable," one of the researchers told the Washington Post. Indeed, the researchers go so far as to argue that "Sesame Street" — which they term the "first MOOC" (massive online open course, in contemporary higher education terminology) — was nearly as potent as prekindergarten education in getting those children who had access to it on a daily basis ready to perform in school. And, as with pre-K, the impact was greatest among those from more challenged economic backgrounds; boys were also significant beneficiaries from the program.

However, "Sesame Street" has other benefits that extend beyond sharpening math and literacy skills. First, through its vaguely edgy humor, jazzy music and visual style, it also spurs creativity. (One of my earliest memories is the day when KETS shifted from a black-and -white to a color transmitter and Big Bird suddenly sprung into bright yellow.) Even more important, it exemplifies the values of community and diversity. On the show, both humans and Muppets continually stressed the benefit of collaborative work. (The study is quick to point out that brick-and-mortar preschools are even better at socializing kids to work with others.) As its theme song says: "Come and play/Everything's A-OK/Friendly neighbors there/That's where we meet."

Moreover, as an only child living in a nearly totally white world, I actually had most of my daily interaction with persons of color through the show. The clear message was that communities were strengthened when folks from different backgrounds brought those perspectives to the collaboration. Thus, "Sesame Street" made kids of my mini-generation not just better learners, but better citizens.

The long-term success of "Sesame Street" reminds us that public investment in kids during their earliest years benefits them and society for decades to come. After a state legislative session in which public library spending was thwacked and many tots remain in need of pre-K slots because only minor increases in funding for the state's successful early childhood program occurred, it's a timely reminder.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • Storm president

    It's undeniable that President Trump's public approval has improved since the moment Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas the last week of August; polls showed his popularity up by approximately 2 points.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • Kennedy's last chance

    It all goes back over 200 years ago when a state legislative districting map created by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry was criticized for its salamander shape that provided a partisan advantage for Gerry's fellow Democratic-Republicans. The controversy over the redistricting was key to Gerry's defeat by a Federalist opponent in the fall of 1812. Now with high-powered mapping software and gobs of data about voters, "gerrymandering" is more vibrant than ever.
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • Solving Dems' Pelosi problem

    For the good of her party and the ideals for which she has fought so effectively, it is time for U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to announce she will not serve as speaker if the Democrats retake control of the House in 2018.
    • Aug 24, 2017
  • More »

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.

Latest in Jay Barth

  • Storm president

    It's undeniable that President Trump's public approval has improved since the moment Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas the last week of August; polls showed his popularity up by approximately 2 points.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • Kennedy's last chance

    It all goes back over 200 years ago when a state legislative districting map created by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry was criticized for its salamander shape that provided a partisan advantage for Gerry's fellow Democratic-Republicans. The controversy over the redistricting was key to Gerry's defeat by a Federalist opponent in the fall of 1812. Now with high-powered mapping software and gobs of data about voters, "gerrymandering" is more vibrant than ever.
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • Solving Dems' Pelosi problem

    For the good of her party and the ideals for which she has fought so effectively, it is time for U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to announce she will not serve as speaker if the Democrats retake control of the House in 2018.
    • Aug 24, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Viewed

  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • Storm president

    It's undeniable that President Trump's public approval has improved since the moment Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas the last week of August; polls showed his popularity up by approximately 2 points.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Bad health care bill, again

    • Its hard to tell what the GOP in Arkansas care about beyond making life worse…

    • on September 20, 2017
  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • I am very glad to see a lot of women running for government positions in…

    • on September 19, 2017
  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • Since Hillary's book has come out, the Hillary Bashers have starting ranting again. My thoughts:…

    • on September 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation