Sandra Dodd

Jocelyn Vilter sent a link to this. It's an account of how Sesame
Street changed a boy's life, from the perspective of the grown man as
a father. Maybe this would be good to give to relatives who complain
about television, because it has absolutely nothing to do with
unschooling, but all to do with learning.

I've posted about my love for Sesame Street previously, but I can say
without a moment’s worth of doubt that Sesame Street was the most
positive influence on my life of anything that I experienced as a
child. I grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri that was pretty
much the exact opposite of the Sesame Street world. Every family was
white. Education was minimal. To provide perspective: This was a town
where the KKK could march through the streets openly and be cheered;
it was a town where everyone attended church at least twice each week,
yet somehow it had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state and
later became a huge center for meth production. I know there are tons
of places just like this place and even much worse, but for me
personally it’s still the most depressing place I can imagine.

Most people don’t escape this place. My brother got hooked on meth and
has never been the same since. My guess is that my sister was his
dealer. This is a normal story from that town. Even most of those kids
there who didn’t have their lives ruined by drugs and alcohol grew up
in an environment where they were taught that different was bad,
intolerance was just fine, and racism was a given. Even now, with the
advent of the Internet and satellite television, the outside world has
made little dent in changing these attitudes.

But I got lucky. I had Sesame Street. PBS only came in with a lot of
fuzz on our TV, but I don’t remember a single day before I started
school that I didn’t watch Sesame Street at least twice a day. And
even after I started school, I watched it regularly until junior high
and often enough even later. Yes, it was a kid’s show, but to me it
was a lifeline. Sesame Street (and other shows such as The Electric
Company) was the only time I saw kids who weren’t all white. The
messages that it included of cultural curiosity and tolerance toward
others’ views were messages I didn’t get from anywhere else. And so I
grew up questioning the racism I saw around me. I don’t know if it was
a gradual realization or not. But I do know it was different from what
most of my peers saw for themselves. I know that my grandmother didn’t
speak to me for two years after I (as a 7-year-old) got mad at her for
saying something racist. I know that I had my car tires slashed more
times than I can count while I was in high school and that my senior
yearbook contains anonymous “signatures” consisting of death threats
because of my non-racist attitudes.

And later I escaped. Unlike most of my classmates, I was able to get
into college. I took off and have only been back to the town a handful
of times even though most of my family still lives there. A few of
those times have been with my wife, whom I met several years later.
After our first visit, she was amazed at what she saw, but her first
question after we hopped in the car was, “How did you turn out so
different?” I hadn’t really thought about my situation in that way
before, but my answer was simple: “Sesame Street.” I have no doubt
that, without that one outside presence in my pre-school life, I would
never have thought to question anything going on in my town until it
would have been much too late to pull myself away. I don’t think I’m
overstating things when I say that Sesame Street saved my life.

Years later, I had a son of my own and of course he was going to watch
Sesame Street as often as I could get him in front of the TV. And,
yes, he liked it, even if it was now a different show with Elmo and
the like. But unlike me, he didn’t love Sesame Street. He enjoyed it
and he watched it, but by the time he was five he lost interest in the
show. It made me sad at first, but then I realized that he was now in
a place where he didn’t “need” Sesame Street. His classroom has
children of several different races and backgrounds. He hears about
the outside world every day. And that makes me happy. But there are
other kids out there who still need this show in the same way that I
did, and I hope that Sesame Street is always there to help them as it
did me.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 8:48 AM on November 4


Here's where it resides:

And if you look at google (at least in the U.S.) today there's a 40th
anniversary bit, in the title.

When Kirby was little we had the Sesame Street 20th anniversary poster
up in his room.