Today, television has a relatively negative reputation among parents and researchers for its negative influences on young minds. It appears that, the younger the mind, the more negative the impact of television on such minds. However, authors like Fisch (2008, p. 10) point out that, while it is true that much programming promotes violence as a means of solving problems, there are those that take their educational and influential responsibilities more seriously. There are few children, or indeed adults, alive today, for example, who do not know the name Sesame Street. Worldwide, the show has gained a reputation under many translations and different titles, but the premise remains: preschool children worldwide learn both intellectual, social, and emotional skills by the content presented within the show. The majority of research relating to television and its influence has focused on the negative side of its impact. Less attention has been paid to shows like Sesame Street and its potential to positively impact the young mind. What is important in such research, however, is to determine if these shows and their reputation are indeed as positively influential as has been assumed for the decades of their existence. Sesame Street is set up for children of preschool age, more or less between the ages of three and five years old. A closer analysis of the show provides evidence and substance to research that suggests Sesame Street as a sound influence on young minds in terms of educational, social, and emotional development.
Sesame Street was created in response to an increasing concern, in the United States, for the educational achievements of children from poor and ethnic minority children in the public schools system of the country (Harris, 2012). During the 1960s, targeted research revealed that underachievement in these schools tended to focus mostly within children from these deprived communities. Generally, it was hypothesized that the background in the homes of underachieving children tended to be deprived not only in terms of physical goods, but also in intellectual and social resources. There was, for example, a lack of intellectual stimulus material, a limit of social roles children were exposed to, and an impoverished linguistic interactions among adults and children. Although today's research have shown these influences and the prevalence of stimulus material among such communities to be somewhat debatable, at the time it was surmised that a remedy for the situation in the country could be provided by means of television. It was regarded as a "popular culture" tool by means of which children can unobtrusively be stimulated to become more ready for the educational rigors they would face in the public school context.
Sesame Street was born as a result, based upon educational research and policy, unlike many other children's programs even today (Harris, 2012). Specifically, the goal was to focus on the educational and intellectual needs of pre-school age children. Items such as counting, object naming, identifying similarities, the alphabet, the introduction and explanation of concepts form part to he intellectual component of the program. Ashby (2012) confirms this, and continues to note that Sesame Street in its current manifestation is a continuously evolving franchise that has not lost its focus on its original goal; to help and encourage the development of young children. Traditional school items such as letter sounds, numbers, colors and patterns are presented in a way that stimulates and encourages children's curiosity and intellectual inquisitiveness about the world around them. Recurring segments reinforce learning items presented in previous episodes. Topics that have received increasing current attention within the curriculum have been included, such as caring for the environment and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy eating and exercise, especially in the Western world, have become very important components of education, especially for children. The media and advertising bombard young minds with the joys of eating McDonald's, KFC, and other fried, fatty, fast foods. The result has been not only a nation in which almost half of adults are classified as obese, but where this condition has also increasingly begun to afflict young children. Sesame Street has responded by its "Healthy Habits for Life" segment, initiated in 2005 (Bryson, 2012). This is particularly important in the context of school and peers, where many simply follow their parents' poor eating and lifestyle habits.
The show recognizes not only the importance of addressing the issue, but also of doing so for a significant component of the show. Specifically, characters like Elmo has engaged in an exercising program, while even Cookie Monster has resolved to eat fewer cookies. If the educational value of these well-loved characters is any indication, it may also be projected that good eating and lifestyle habits can be stimulated in this way.
The show continues to evolve not only in terms of material, but also in terms of how this material is presented. These developments are stimulated not only by the evolution of technology by means of which material can be presented, but also in terms of new educational research. Particularly, recent developments have included multiple visual styles and audience interactivity, where children are allowed to predict the upcoming segments of the show.
There is not only an intellectual aspect to the program, however; indeed, the social aspect, especially in the context of the school environment, also receives significant attention. Motivation, respect, and tolerance for others, for example, form an important component of the program's educational effort (Harris, 2012). These are known as "affective objectives." Indeed, motivation and tolerance have been particular goals within the comprehensive school movement in Britain during the 1970s, so the show already created for itself international roots at its very beginning. While some of the educational methods differed between the United States and the United Kingdom, the truth remains that the characters and material are assembled in such a way to stimulate young children towards intellectual achievement, as well as social and emotional adjustments in schools.
Far from mechanically focusing on the intellectual and other goals of the learning presented, Sesame Street owes its success to a culturally rich presentation of learning via longtime Muppet characters such as The Count, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch. These characters live and interact with "normal" people like Maria, Bob, and Gordon. In this way, interpersonal and social relationships are also demonstrated, encouraging respect for diversity (Ashby, 2012). Topics are presented by means of music, dance, and cultural segments and includes characters of all ages, colors, races, and physical abilities.
Evidence of the cultural benefits of Sesame Street can be found today even in adults who were exposed to the show as children. The author Adasiak (2008), for example, derived significant material to conceptualize the idea of community as a concept that involves interpersonal relationships rather than a physically limited location. As such, the show stimulates ideas regarding community values, interpersonal relationships, and tolerance. As such, geographic concepts like "neighborhood" are expanded to become a wider idea that also include the way in which people within such neighborhoods interact with each other. Hence, social stimulation and growth are significant components of the show.
Although there is little doubt that Sesame Street indeed caters very well for the intellectual, social, and emotional needs of its young audience, it is also advisable that parents watch some of the episodes with their offspring. This is especially recommended with the emotional component of the program, where strong emotions are sometimes the subject of the show. Of course these are presented in a completely age appropriate way, and also in the context of emotions that young children might sometimes be faced with. These include missing a friend, suffering from low self-esteemed, worry about the arrival of a new baby in the family, and similar emotional content. Although many of these emotions can be experienced in a negative way by young…