This past November marked the 50th anniversary of “Sesame Street,” making it the longest running American children’s show. Throughout its extensive history, Sesame Street has raised awareness of several global issues through children’s education, empowering the next generation to take action.
With an impressionable audience, the Street continues to influence children globally with over 100 versions of the show, receiving acclaim for its cultural diversity. Through its mission of education for all, Sesame Street has revolutionized children’s programming for the better.
Before Sesame Street, educational shows for children were nearly nonexistent. When the show first aired in 1969, programming solely consisted of eye-catching shows such as “The Flintstones” and “The Bugs Bunny Show.” Both are still prominent cartoons to this day, but they never taught children life lessons or skills; rather, they profited off of a young audience who wasted hours on the television.
The Street, however, teaches children speech, writing, and math — the fundamentals that give children a head-start in their education. Furthermore, Sesame Street provides constant lessons of morality with basic lessons on manners, kindness, and unprejudiced acceptance.
Sesame Street is a culturally diverse platform throughout international versions of the show for an industry of under-represented minorities. With the Hispanic character Rosita being the first bilingual character on the American show, the show introduced children to Spanish and promoted racial inclusion.
The Street has also introduced several characters with autism and Down syndrome, in which the puppets combatted stigma against those with mental illness. In the South African version, Kami, a puppet with HIV, campaigned with Bill Clinton for UNICEF. An Afghan puppet was also used to promote girls’ rights in third world countries as well as acknowledge discriminated minorities.
Especially in a time of hate and rejection of diversity, Sesame Street gives children a broader perspective of the world, rather than a narrow-minded opinion that reflect socially-acceptable norms.
While Sesame Street teaches children about cultural diversity and inclusion, they also give valuable lessons of life and acceptance. In one episode during the early 70s, a cast member breastfed her child and educated Big Bird on breastfeeding as something normal and beneficial to both mother and child.
A decade later, actor Will Lee, who had been part of the show from the beginning, passed away, and instead of ignoring it in the show, the creators decided that Big Bird would learn what happened to his friend. Mr. Hooper, the name of Lee’s character, simply passed away, and although he would never return, Big Bird would always have memories of him, addressing death in a manner that would be understandable for young children.
Later in the years, Sesame Street would call attention to topics such as adoption and incarceration.
Throughout the world, Sesame Street remains a prominent figure in children’s lives, especially those with a lack of proper education. Because of its inclusive and diverse characters, the Street thrives in the children’s entertainment industry, and with good reason. It covers mature issues with children in a way that won’t be detrimental to their growth, instead giving them the opportunity to learn how to care for each other without prejudice.
At the end of the day, Sesame Street owes its extensive lifespan to the reason why it was created in the first place: to help children become smarter, stronger, and kinder.