In the late 1960s, the Children’s Television Workshop and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) revolutionized children’s television. Sesame Street was released in 1969, and it was focused on using the still relatively new medium of television to educate children. They focused on preschoolers living in poor neighbors. Because PBS was publicly funded, Sesame Street didn’t have to cater to the needs of corporations. It didn’t have to sell cereal or toys to kids or have them ask mommy about getting a new car. All Sesame Street had to do was prove that television could be used to teach children.
Before Sesame Street educational television was pendantic, boring, and colorless. People with children knew that their kids were captivated by TV and capable of learning the jingles of popular commercials. The creators of Sesame Street hypothesized that if children could learn jingles from television, they could also learn their letters and numbers. Targeting the inner city made sense because those children had the fewest opportunities to attend preschool.
Even in the late 1960s, people realized that it was important for children to see themselves represented on television in positive ways. Sesame Street went out of its way to cast women, men and children of diverse backgrounds. As the phenomenon of Sesame Street grew so did its inclusiveness. By 1979, Sesame Street had a cast that included actors who were Latino, black, Native American, and deaf. They included a child with down syndrome, whose parents were told at the time of his birth that he would never be anything and it would be better for him to be put in an institution.
Fortunately, for her son and everyone who watched Sesame Street, Emily Kingsley and her husband didn’t listen to the doctors. Instead, they raised their son and got him on Sesame Street.
“[Kids] need to see themselves, all the people who feel this sense of strangeness and separateness, who need to have that strangeness eradicated” need to be represented, said Kingsley.
That was part of the brilliance of Sesame Street. It brought people together and showed the youngest Americans a vision of what an integrated society could look like if we just have the courage to see each other as we all are – the same, even in our differences.
Source: “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street” by Michael Davis