Sesame Street is the longest-running children’s television show of all time: it has become almost a sacred institution, which is guaranteed to generate a warm, nostalgic glow. Yet fifty years on, it’s important to recall some of the controversy that surrounded its early days. In this essay, drawing on original archival research, I go back to the origins of Sesame Street and the Children’s Television Workshop, the non-profit organization that created it. The programme was targeted at preschool children in general, but particularly at disadvantaged, inner-city children – and, at least initially, at African-American children specifically. It did this in two main ways: firstly, through its representation of inner-city life, and of racial diversity; and secondly, through attempting to raise the educational achievement of black children in particular. In exploring these two issues, I show that this was a difficult – and at times, quite confused and contradictory – endeavour.
You can download the whole essay (without illustrations) by clicking here or if you want to read the illustrated version, click on the subheadings to read the different sections:
- Introduction: Sesame Street fifty years on
- Sesame Street in context
- Defining problems and solutions
- Representation on and behind the screen
- Muppets and the dilemmas of multiculturalism
- Narrowing the gaps?
- Measuring and debating effectiveness
- Reaching out
- Going forward; conclusion
- Sources and references