Sweepin' the clouds away… On my way to where the air is sweet…
Even now when I hear the opening notes, the familiar happy beat of the theme song brings back happy, silly memories of the children’s educational show, Sesame Street. Just about everyone has fond childhood memories of watching the Muppets, their human neighbors and the silliness that always ensued and along the way we learned the alphabet, how to count, and issues like telling the truth and being good.
It was a diverse group of characters but as a child I didn’t notice, probably because the characters didn’t notice. Differences were never really called to attention, heck these people lived and worked with monsters. I don’t think it even really registered to me that Big Bird wasn’t an actual gigantic yellow talking bird. I never wondered why Oscar lived in a garbage can, but my imagination went wild as to how big the inside of it actually was.
I even learned some Spanish, with the only downside being I can’t count to 10 without singing it Sesame Street style and I know I’m not the only one. But looking back, to me the diversity issue that the show attempted to tackle seemed to work in that they never really drew attention to it. Everyone on Sesame Street was more focused learning whatever lessons were brought to you by today by the letter “R” and the number “1.”
Way back in 1972, Sesame Street first introduced us to Linda Bove, a deaf librarian, who became a regular character on the show and for many children their first exposure to a person with disabilities. One of Sesame Street’s goals was to educate and prepare children for what and who they might encounter in their first days at school, and for a show whose target audience is 3 to 5-year-olds, I think they did a wonderful job and gave millions of adults many happy memories.
Come and play, Everything's A-OK…
Not so much. Imagine moving away from your childhood home, only to return years later to find the opioid crisis has a death hold on the neighborhoods you once played in as a child. The opioid crisis has made it’s way to Sesame Street.
I’d like you to meet Karli. She is a six-and-a-half-year-old Muppet “whose mom is dealing with addiction.” Karli is currently in foster care because her mother had to go away for treatment, but she is now in recovery. It’s to teach children to be compassionate to others in similar situations.
The reasoning? The Sesame Workshop says that of the 5.7 million children who are under the age of 11, 1 in 8 of them live in homes with a parent who has a substance abuse disorder. They go on to cite that 1 in 3 of those children will be placed in foster care because of parental addiction. The Sesame Workshop also has links on their site with resources and videos available for children to access.
While I can understand and appreciate all of that, I really do, I’m not on board with this at all. Sesame Street’s viewers are 3 to 5-year-olds who are struggling to grasp colors, numbers and letters but let’s open a can of worms on opioid addiction, family court and drug rehabilitation. Do we bring up overdose deaths because we all know not everyone is lucky enough to make it into a rehabilitation facility. Will Karli’s mom get her back and what kind of a message will either outcome send? Will she relapse?
Sure, Sesame Street taught you the basics, the ABC’s and your 1,2,3 but it also taught us to be nice to one another. Period. It didn’t require a specific set of circumstances to teach compassion or support.
Let’s go back to the back to the basics, play nice with everyone and let the 5-year-olds be children.
Allan Giberti is the host of RI Red Radio on 990WBOB.com. You can listen to Allan live on Mondays at 7pm and Tuesdays at 8pm. All times Eastern.
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