Distinguishing Reality: Sesame Street vs. School

By | October 15, 2018

One of the tasks of this week’s blog was to unpack Neil Postman’s quote, “… We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.”  In a failed attempt to find this exact quote, I uncovered an interview Postman gave in 1989.  Postman expressed similar views to the one provided where he criticized Sesame Street as providing a false representation of what schooling is.  He specifically states, “It may be that watchers of Sesame Street are learning their letters and numbers, but they are also learning many other things about learning. They are learning that it must always be entertaining, that learning is largely a matter of images, and that learning has to involve immediate gratification.”  I suppose the first thing that I would like to point out is that Neil Postman made his opinions and statements regarding Sesame Street in the late 1980s… this is 30 years ago.  Although I discussed in last week’s blog how Seymour Papert critiqued education as evolving very little over the last 100 years, one could argue that today’s classrooms, educational strategies and teachings look different then the way they did in the late 1980s.  Audiovisual technologies have allowed students to learn in new ways through things like iPad apps, youtube, SMART boards, etc.  I would argue that including technology in a learning environment promotes a more engaging experience for learners; one that might align more closely to educational programs such as Sesame Street.

Secondly, I think it is important to acknowledge that Neil Postman’s criticisms fail to address the responsibility that parents have in teaching their children that schooling isn’t going to be like television.  As a parent, allowing your children to watch programs like “Super Why” or using educational apps must be accompanied by the real-life experiences and teachings of concepts.  Ultimately, I believe that it is a parents duty to ensure that their child enters school with the understanding that he/she isn’t stepping into an episode of the Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle.  Sorry, kids.

The idea of preparing your child for a realistic schooling experience links closely to the opinions expressed in my classmate Daniel’s blog.  Daniel states, “As a teacher in a publicly funded public education system, my obligation is to teach my courses based on curriculum established by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan…  (television programs) do not have the restriction of needing to teach specific outcomes and making SURE their audience has demonstrated a sufficiently good understanding of that outcome to be successful.”  I think Daniel makes great points here.  We can’t allow educational television and computer-based games to set the standard for public schooling when the two are in totally different playing fields.

With all this being said, it is important for parents and educators to understand that although schooling will not be a walk down Sesame Street, the use of audiovisual technologies can allow an educational experience to be elevated to new heights for learners.  As one of this week’s articles points out, “Children learn differently and audio visual equipment gives teachers the chance to stimulate each child’s learning process with a combination of pictures, sounds and attention grabbing media.”  My classmate Brooke echoes this statement in her blog, when she explains that today’s technology capabilities allow teachers to actually show students concepts rather then just having them read about it or listen to explanations from a teacher.  I agree with both authors on this topic and see audiovisual technologies as a means to enhance student learning.  When audiovisual technologies are used to assist in the delivery of curricular outcomes, students are provided with engaging opportunities in school settings.

One thought on “Distinguishing Reality: Sesame Street vs. School

  1. Michael Graham

    I am going to admit, your Magic School Bus quote showed up on my Twitterfeed, and so I was intrigued. (I also mentioned that fantastic show in my blog this week).

    I do agree that parents do have some social and educational responsibility to make sure that their children are not expecting the Frizz in the classroom, but (as I pick up a large brush to paint every parent with), many vocal parents end up being the ones to downspeak teachers and education. Not all, and I do not feel that it is the majority of parents, but the majority of parents who will talk about school in general.

    So we end up with a) disengaged students b) edutainment that does not depict real life for them and c) parents who either speak against education or remain silent on the matter.

    Solutions? We need to engage a broader audience of parents, give voices to supporters as well, and perhaps (in some cases) drink a little bit of Ms. Frizzle’s coffee throughout the year to cultivate the teaching spark inside all teachers.


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