Could you tell me how to get to Sesame Street? For the last 46 years all any knowledge-hungry child would need is a TV set in order to access all the fun and friendly characters of Sesame Street.
However, starting this fall parents better be willing to shell out $15 a month to HBO if they want their child to enjoy the same early education they had growing up.
The move was an attempt on the part of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces Sesame Street and other early education television shows, to modernize how they distribute content to their viewers, and earn more money in order to produce a greater quantity of shows each season.
Despite the good intentions, this is the worst decision Sesame Workshop could have made for the future of American education.
Once upon a time, I was a young child living in a trailer-house out in the country, where even if we could have afforded cable, we couldn’t have gotten it. This, in the days of analog television, meant only seven channels came in clearly no matter at what angle we rabbit-eared the antenna.
The only channel that catered to children like me was PBS where I could watch great shows like Dragon Tales, Arthur, Barney and, of course, Sesame Street. The best thing about those shows was that I was learning, but it didn’t feel like learning.
For me it was a treat to wake up in the morning and watch Elmo and Big Bird while my mom made breakfast, or to come home from school during the first grade and watch Max and Emmy fly with dragons in a land apart.
All that time I wasn’t aware that I was learning patterns, how to count, or the letters of the alphabet, but I was still learning and, more importantly, enjoying it.
When Sesame Street makes the switch from PBS to HBO, it doesn’t mean there will no longer be any educational programming for children. But it could make such crucial programs much more difficult for children to access.
Sesame Street has a long tradition of having an incredibly diverse cast of human characters. Famous figures like Maria, Alan, Luis, Gordon and Susan showed us that discrimination doesn’t have to exist, because it doesn’t on Sesame Street.
No other show is doing what Sesame Street does. No other show demonstrates the diversity of people, teaches such a variety of topics and encourages children to learn by showing them all the things they can grow up to be or do.
The 2012 U.S. census showed that 46.5 million people are living in poverty across the nation. To be perfectly clear here, that is 46 MILLION people, many of whom are part of the minorities the show represents so well, who cannot afford to pay extra for a TV show.
That number represents millions of children who are going to lose the great equalizer that public television is.
In the mean time there is the fear that Sesame Workshop could start a trend among early education show providers to move away from public television all together, which could seriously cripple PBS. PBS is funded largely by private donations from people and groups whose focus is to provide a quality at-home education for children.
If shows continue to leave in order to make money, funding for PBS could dry up, forcing it to cut back on more of its quality television programs.
Sesame Workshop selling out to HBO is the equivalent of turning its back on lower-class Americans, possibly its largest demographic of viewers, and saying, “Sorry, we don’t care about your children anymore.”