If you’re in the United States, you no doubt noticed that Nov. 10 marked the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Sesame Street.”
Memories of watching this public broadcast program as children is something that almost all Americans have in common. We all watched. It’s how many of us learned to count, recognize the letters of the alphabet and speak some rudimentary Spanish. It was often funny, sometimes sad and always educational.
What you might not know about “Sesame Street” is that it was deliberately conceived as an educational intervention to help low-income, minority children. I read the history of “Sesame Street” recently and found it to have some very interesting characteristics:
* It was highly targeted. While “Sesame Street” was and continues to be widely viewed by Americans of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, the program was very specifically developed to teach minority preschoolers. In the era in which integration of the public schools was an ongoing process, many children whose parents and grandparents had been excluded from higher education (and, in many cases, full and adequate primary and secondary schooling), the show aimed to fill the gaps by specifically targeting low-income, minority children. Thus, the show’s creators set it not in an idyllic suburb, but on an urban street. Its characters did not live in mansions or fancy high-rises, but in basic apartments. “Sesame Street” was conceived as an intervention that would help poor and minority children, who might not have the opportunity to attend preschools, have the chance to be on par with their peers on the first day of elementary school.
* It challenged norms. “Sesame Street” was one of the first programs on television – and the first program aimed at children – to feature a multiracial cast. Its introduction was one of the first times that minority children got to see characters who looked like themselves on television, and it was definitely the first time that those children were interacting with white characters. The state of Mississippi initially tried to ban its broadcast because of this integration. There were also protests that the show featured strong, independent single women who found personal and career fulfillment outside of family and household management.