Seems like it’s not such a sunny day on Sesame Street, or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there was a place where they didn’t want to be in the municipality of PBS anymore. Maybe there are those in the Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop) that resent the legacy that Jim Henson tried to build beginning in 1968. If you read the article “It’s Not ‘Sesame Street’s Fault They Went to HBO. It’s Ours,” by LA Times columnist Sam Adams, one can clearly see where we’re at least partly to blame to some degree for this divergence from offering free educational content.
Truth be told though, I think there’s enough blame to go around; me, you, PBS, HBO subscribers who don’t donate to PBS, the GOP denizens who insist on cutting the paltry funding that they described as “systemic government waste”… it’s a long list. You can rest assured of one thing though. This won’t get nearly as much press as Hillary Clinton’s stupid emails. In my opinion, it deserves more.
I guess it began about the time that I started college in 1995 that the best education in the country was available to those who could pay for it. Time was when it was not all that expensive, or free. Our public schools used to be good. Our public colleges and universities used to be incredible places of learning. Now though, it’s easy and often necessary for parents and students to plunge themselves into unmanageable and unimaginable debt when all anyone in the middle class wants to do is to live simply. But let’s set the middle class aside for just a moment. What of parents who can’t enroll their kids in preschool? What of them? What about opportunities for reinforcement that Sesame Street offers and has offered since it started in 1969?
Now I must admit, I attended a private school for kindergarten through 5th grade. It wasn’t because my family was rich privileged, mind you. We surely were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not completely clear whether my mom just wanted a better education than what she thought public school education would get me in the 1980s. There’s a lot of possible reasons why I was enrolled in private school. That said though, the school I went to was soft on reading and grammar education. REALLY soft. Sesame Street was often credited by my family with bolstering the basics with repetition so that I could understand concepts. As a result, I was a super strong reader by the time I got into middle school. I can’t imagine that I’m the only guy in this world with that experience. If I had a successfully supplemented education from watching the show every afternoon, then that’s one kid who was reached. That means that Children’s Television Workshop accomplished what it set out to do. Educate kids and keep them off the streets by keeping them entertained with learning.
There is something that I have come to accept as being generally true. It’s that media corporations care about money….. pools of money. This isn’t new either. Media corporation’s desire to make money is the primary reason why we have laws in place that television networks must dedicate a certain amount of time every week to children’s programming. The struggle between making money and providing a service to the nation continues to be a hard-fought battle. Given this truth, it’s apparent that HBO wants very much to make some money off this venture with Sesame Workshop. Sesame Street sells all kinds of books, dolls, DVDs, CDs, clothes, dishes, toys, etc. They have and have had brand recognition for 47 years that they’ve been on TV. What media empire wouldn’t want a piece of that action?
I want to think that the folks at Sesame Workshop are acutely aware of the devil that they have just sold themselves to. Like all other media companies, I expect that HBO will gut everything from Sesame Street that makes it quality programming for children. As a matter of fact, they already have with the cutting of the show from 60 minutes per episode, to only 30 minutes per episode. In thirty minutes, I one can only get a few concepts in using the early childhood education tool of repetition. After that 30 minutes, it’s back to “bombardment” as Fred Rogers said it once.
We should be rallying to stop this. In 1969, Fred Rogers sat in a congressional hearing and secured $20 million dollars to establish what we now know as PBS. He was wise enough back then to know that children are the most valuable beings on the planet. Not because they will grow up to make us more money, but because they will be the creators of the future and the stewards of peace and understanding in our time.
If you watched the video above, you’ll get a glimpse of what the idea is behind educational television. It’s something that doesn’t exist much anymore on non-pay television or streaming internet. I should know. I haven’t been a cable subscriber in over 5 years. I get all my television over the air. There’s nothing like this out there. Not even Reading Rainbow is on PBS anymore, having been cancelled 6 years ago. In Reading Rainbow’s case though, it wasn’t about the money primarily. For more on why Reading Rainbow ultimately met its demise, read this wonderful Q&A by ThinkProgress with LeVar Burton.
I wonder if the discussion will come up in the weeks and months to come as to whether or not Sesame Workshop even tried to stay with PBS. Why couldn’t they have gone the Kickstarter route that LeVar Burton went? How about seeking specific grants from specific companies like Fred Rogers’ Family Communications did for so many years with The Sears Roebuck Foundation? I’m sure there are plenty of avenues available to Sesame Workshop to stay on the air. I think they were probably just worn out with having to beg and borrow. That’s where we, John and Jane Q. Consumer come in.
We owe it to ourselves to invest in our own futures anymore and send CLEAR messages to big corporations that their profit margins are not important to us. Unfortunately though, we live in a world where we look to Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Prime and others to satisfy our cravings. PBS and its affiliated stations are seemingly left out in the cold to the tune of $8 per month, often more if you subscribe to all the major providers. To atone for my own mistakes in prioritization, I’ll be cancelling my Hulu account and sending that $8 per month to PBS. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to help protect PBS.
In the too-fast paced world of business, marketing, politics and mainstream religion, there is often too little time for children to be children. There is far too little being done to address the educational needs of children. There is far too little being done to tell children over and over and over that they are special and that their little lives have and will have meaning. There’s not enough time to help kids comprehend things like divorce, death, natural disasters and the like.
Since I got off work today, I’ve been taking a look at some of the original videos of how Sesame Street started. Below are YouTube videos of the original pitch reels. I hope that this will give you some context on how much things have changed over the years and the work that we have before us to take the power out of the money hoarders and power grabbers.
Pitch Reel – Part 1
Pitch Reel – Part 2
The world is getting scarier and smaller with each passing day. All I can hope is that we don’t leave children alone and with no advocates or protectors while big corporations seek to own all that is ownable.