I remember when, as a kid, PBS’ educational TV consisted of shows like Sesame Street, Electric Company, Read All About It, the Letter People, 3-2-1-Contact and… oh, you know, that one with the clown that taught you French. These shows all taught substantive material. Sure, there was the occasional “Mister Rogers” that taught lessons about caring, listening, being nice and sharing, but they were the exception, not the rule.
Now, when I look at the PBS TV lineup more this morning, I see Arthur, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dragon Tales, It’s a Big Big World, Clifford’s Puppy Days, Barney and Friends, Caillou, It’s a Big Big World (again), Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Sesame Street, Mister Rogers and Between the Lions. Of these eleven shows, only two (Sesame Street and Between the Lions) teach any substantive content, and Sesame Street has been really, really, really dumbed down — now the big intellectual challenge is to find out where Ernie’s been hiding on the TV screen. The rest of the shows are different in trivial ways. Arthur is about an anteater who learns to be nice and share, the Clifford shows are about a dog who learns to be nice and share, Dragon Tales is about dragons who learn to be nice and share, Jay Jay the Jet Plane is about an airplane who learns to be nice and share, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
What’s behind the change over the past thirty years in educational television from an emphasis on science, phonics, reading, foreign language and the like to an emphasis on sharing and being nice?