Everything I Know, I Learned from Sesame Street
Ryan Dosier – I’ve been thinking a lot about Sesame Street lately. The characters, the songs, the people, the way it has affected the world, the 75 million “graduates” of the Street, what things would be like without it, how to get there… And I keep coming back to one unshakable thought; one rock solid fact: Sesame Street has influenced the lives of more children than any other television show ever. Sesame Street has influenced the world more than any other television show ever. Sesame Street has influenced my life more than any other television show ever.
I have been a Sesame seed since as far back as I can remember. There are home videos of me in a crib with a Sesame Street mirror. I remember reading “The Monster at the End of This Book” and watching my “Sing Along” videotape until it almost wouldn’t play anymore.
At every period in my life I can think back and recall Sesame Street having some sort of effect on it. Be it my 3rd birthday when a walk-around Big Bird visited me at the zoo, or my 16th birthday when the first thing I did after getting my driver’s license was go to Best Buy and purchase Sesame Street Old School: Volume 1, Sesame Street has always been there.
And, thankfully, it looks like it always will. After 40 years of producing over 4100 consistently high quality shows, Sesame Street shows absolutely no sign of stopping. How could it? It has become such an ingrained part of our society that we’ve actually started to take it for granted. We know that it has always been there and we assume that it always will be; we just can’t expect it to just suddenly go away.
Big Bird, Elmo, and the rest of the gang have taught millions and millions of children so many things beyond just the letters and numbers they set out to teach in 1969. They have taught words, songs, environmentalism, math, reading, computer literacy, even toilet training! I would like to show you just a few of the things Sesame Street has taught me that I use everyday.
Of course the primary goal of Sesame Street is to teach, so it’s no wonder that I’m starting with Learning. Sesame Street taught me the importance of learning at a very young age. I think they instilled in me my curious nature. I always want to find out more information about things that interest me (including Sesame Street, wouldn’t ya know) and I can only attribute this to the Street. Sesame Street taught me that learning can be fun.
How can you not have fun learning when Big Bird, Grover, or Cookie Monster are your teachers? Imagine how much more fun school would be if The Count taught math or Murray Monster taught English classes. Heck, even Oscar could be the lovably grouchy janitor! I would argue that Sesame Street is better than school in all aspects. At what school are your best friends and classmates eight-foot two-inch yellow birds or a monster that won’t steal your lunch money, but will eat your lunchbox?
Sesame Street was the first thing to show me that learning could be fun. I would assume this is the same for millions of children all over the world. I mean, why else would that “alphabet” thing be so darn popular? It MUST be because of Sesame Street!
My first week in college, my English professor handed us an assignment, asking us to write a page about our first memory of music. I had to sit down and actually think about what I first remember hearing. The answer, which is probably a surprise to no one, is Sesame Street music.
Sesame Street was my first real exposure to music. It opened the door for me to an entire musical world—it still does that today, in fact. New musical artists on the Street lead me to new discoveries of their music outside of the Street. I first heard of The Goo Goo Dolls when they sang “Slide (Pride)” with Elmo, and now they are one of my favorite bands. And now that I’m an older Sesame Street fan (yeah, yeah, point and laugh—you aren’t the first!), I recognize some of my favorite musicians visiting the show to lend their voices and skills with the Muppets. James Blunt and Telly, Plain White T’s and the Letter T, Ray Charles and Kermit, Jason Mraz and the cast… all of these hugely popular musicians visited the Street, giving children their first glimpse and listen into the world of music.
The musical aspect of Sesame Street, be it a song of Joe Raposo, Jeff Moss, Christopher Cerf, Tony Geiss, or Feist, is one of its most vitally important pieces of the show. It acts as the first exposure to music for most children who tune in. That first bar of the theme song that proclaims a sunny day sweeping the clouds away is more often than not the most lasting impression music that children will ever receive—or… this child, at least.
If learning is Sesame Street’s main goal, then laughing is its vice president. Nearly every aspect of the show can be drawn back to the purpose of making its viewers laugh. Whether it be a hysterical pratfall by Bert to make the younger viewers giggle, or Grover declaring, “You cannot shove singing and dancing under the door, it is artistic!” to make their parents laugh out loud, Sesame Street is comedy at its finest.
There is no doubt in my mind that my sense of humor came straight from the Street. It represents everything that makes me laugh: puns, ridiculous character traits, physical humor, and good, old-fashioned, slapstick wit.
This is the aspect of Sesame Street that has probably influenced my life the most. Every day I find myself referring back to Ernie and Grover and Telly when trying to make someone laugh. I can never be a waiter because I would find myself too tempted to imitate Grover’s classic sketches. I can probably never function well with a roommate because Ernie has given me too many great ideas. I can never hear someone freaking out about something because I will mock them by becoming comically neurotic like Telly.
It may seem that Sesame Street has left me unable to function in society—but that’s simply not true. I would fit in perfectly in Sesame Street’s society! (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge to anyone from the Street that may be reading—Elmo, baby, e-mail me; we’ll do lunch!)
Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned on the Street is how to love. The Sesame Street gang has taught me that loving everyone of all shapes, sizes, colors, fur-consistencies, or species is important.
You would be hard-pressed to find a group that hasn’t been represented on Sesame Street. African Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, Indian Americans, Monster Americans, deaf, blind, mentally and physically disabled, grouchy, hungry, county, Ernie, cookie (COOOOOOKIE?!), magical, flightless, hard-working, bottlecap collecting, lisped, imaginary, Slimey, Smiley, and everything else in between have all been stars on the Street.
Sesame Street has taught me and children everywhere that all of these people are important and special. It provides children a sense of appreciation and understanding for people of all walks of life. There is no question that the world would be a better place if there was a mandatory class on Sesame Street teaching tolerance. Simply hearing Ernie and Bert’s “But I Like You” song is enough to teach acceptance and appreciation.
It was Bert and Ernie who taught me tolerance. Ernie tortures Bert day in and day out with ridiculous antics, yet Bert still loves Ernie as his best friend. And even though Bert is boring and doesn’t always like to play with Ernie, Ernie still loves his old buddy Bert. If that isn’t acceptance, I don’t know what is.
Sesame Street’s undying message is that life should be sunnier. For 40 years the theme song has proclaimed sunny days sweeping clouds away, and for 40 years, Sesame Street has done just that in the lives of its fans and viewers. Sesame Street is a world that everyone wants to live on. It is a place where it is always sunny, where there is always a song to be sung, a laugh to be had, a hug to be shared.
Sesame Street provides a model for the rest of the world. It shows acceptance and tolerance and happiness. If the world was more like Sesame Street, we can only assume that there would be fewer wars, less pointless bickering between political groups, less unemployed and uneducated individuals, more fuzzy monsters, more Fix-It Shops, and more birdseed milkshakes, more singing—basically everything that Oscar hates; which… he likes, but of course he hates that he likes it, so that makes him—oh, you know the story!
I have always dreamt of living on Sesame Street. As a child, I distinctly remember pondering packing up my clothes and my stuffed dog and running away to Sesame Street. I knew Big Bird and Bob and Maria would all be waiting for me there with open arms. Obviously, I never did run away to Sesame Street… but it’s still a dream. Sesame Street is always there as a dream—as the dream. It is the greatest place on earth. Everyone loves each other, everyone loves everything (except Oscar), everyone is happy. It is truly the epitome of happiness, and if they sold apartments on the Street—or even on the set, I would be moving there immediately.
After 40 years of sunny days, there are still no clouds in sight for the happiest street in the world. They will continue to shine through any clouds that blow their way and kids all over the world, much like me, will continue to learn and grow up on the Street. They will continue to sing with Big Bird, dance with Elmo, laugh with Grover, and grumble with Oscar.
On Today last Friday, Elmo was asked “What do you have planned for the next 40 years?” The little monster thought for a second before answering, “We hope we get to sing and dance and love each other just as much as we’ve been loving each other for 40 years!”
What more could anyone ever ask for from Sesame Street? As long as Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Ernie, Bert, Grover, The Count, Zoe, Abby Cadabby, Rosita, Telly, Prairie Dawn, Baby Bear, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Bob, Susan, Gordon, Maria, Luis, Gina, Alan, Murray Monster, Chris, Leela, Barkley, Gabi, Slimey, Hoots, Herry, Guy Smiley, Two-Headed Monster, and, yes, even Oscar the Grouch, are still able to sing and dance and love each other, the show will go on for 40 more years and 75 million more children will learn, lilt, laugh, love, and live.
But no matter how many children learn from the Street, one thing will always be certain: They will always be asking how to get there.
Happy 40th Birthday, Sesame Street! Here’s to 40 more years of singing, dancing, and loving each other! Thank you for everything you have ever done for the world over the past 40 years. It is truly a sunny world because of you! There are not enough words in the 120 languages you are broadcast in to illustrate how much you mean to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!