Contemplating Life Without 'Sesame Street': Sponsored by the Letter C(ongress)

Jeanne Sager

Sesame StreetIt was a poor moment to start laughing, but when I heard the stars of Sesame Street went to Capitol Hill today, all I could see was Big Bird's feathery yellow butt marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. I'm holding on to that picture, and you need to too. We may need it to get us through the dark times ahead.

Just imagine life without Sesame Street. No sunny days chasing the clouds away makes for dark times indeed! Because the real reason Sesame Street stars like Emilio Delgado (Luis), Roscoe Orman (Gordon), and Bob McGrath (Bob) were in the nation's capital today was to fight to save federal funding for the gold standard of educational TV programming. It seems Congress is trying to kill Sesame Street along with NPR and the rest of public broadcasting.

The House has voted to cut some $420 million in spending traditionally allotted to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- the group that has been funnelling federal funding to public radio and television sources since 1968. They're the folks who fund NPR, but they're also the group that provides money to make Sesame Street and a host of other PBS kids shows.

As a parent, that's too hard a pill for me to swallow. Even at 5, even in school, we're still falling back on some of the PBS shows -- Sesame Street included -- because the educational content reinforces what she's learning. And it doesn't hurt that I used Sesame Street to help ME teach her the basics to begin with.

They say that being a good parent is realizing your strengths and weaknesses. I realized early on that my daughter and I have personalities that are entirely too similar. When it comes time to teach her things, there's a limit to what she will learn from me and what she will disregard precisely because it comes from my mouth.

So I learned to use books and, yes, TV to create an educational atmosphere in our home. She learned numbers along with the Ladybug Picnic song as a toddler, and at 5 she has an Elmo's Math Adventures book that's helping her find math "all around her." She learned her alphabet with Grover and Zoe. She became the well-spoken, verbal, logical child that she is because I leaned on Sesame Street for help.

And I know she's one of the lucky ones. She has a mother and father who both cared and had time to sit and read with her, to work with her on concepts, to pay for nursery school, to prep her for kindergarten and supplement her education beyond that.

But so many kids don't have that. Some have parents who care an awful lot, but are working four jobs to make ends meet and can't afford the massive library we have put together. Some have a single parent and siblings, and Mom or Dad can't focus one-on-one the way they want to. And some, yes, some have parents who don't even care. But if there's a ribbon that ties all those households together, I've found it's Sesame Street. Even those "bad parents" who park their kids in front of the TV for hours on end, they use Sesame Street. And it works.

Poor kids, rich kids, white kids, black kids, WHATEVER kids, they all recognize Elmo and Big Bird because parents trust Sesame Street with our kids. And what all those kids learn from Sesame Street is the basics -- to be supplemented or not depending on how lucky they are. Sesame Street is there for American families.

As Sesame Workshop President Gary Knell said in a recent statement:

For over 40 years, Sesame Workshop has helped children reach their highest potential by creating media which have engaged and educated millions of children in America and around the world.

Congress can't kill Sesame Street without killing opportunity for thousands of kids. Will you sign the petitions to keep it on the air (along with other public broadcasting), so we don't have to contemplate life without Sesame Street?


Image via nickstone333/Flickr

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