Did Sesame Street Ruin Education?

“…We now know that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street.’ Which is to say, we now know that ‘Sesame Street’ undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” – Neil Postman

In this blogpost, we are going to unpack the controversial statement made by Postman about Sesame Street. For us to unpack this quote I believe that it is important that we unpack “What is the traditional idea of school.”

The Traditional Idea of School.  According to Wikipedia, “A School is an educational institution designed to provide learning spaces and learning environments for the teaching of students (or ‘pupils’) under the direction of teachers.”  So the question becomes, “What does Sesame Street do to impact the learning spaces AND/OR the learning environments of teachers and students?”

I was reading a blog on this very issue by John S. Macnab, highlighting two big ideas of Postman. The responsibility of teachers has shifted to an entertainment medium, and the displacement of the social setting – the classroom – to a private setting – in front of a screen.

Issue number 1: The Responsibility of Teachers

I believe that the responsibility of teachers has changed over the years. I do believe the increase in technology is partially responsible for this shift.  Traditionally schooling often included the teacher as the knowledge keeper. With the increase of technology from “Sesame Street” to YouTube the question became “Are teachers becoming relics of the past?” Macnab, brought up an excellent point, “By changing the media of education; we also change our notions of what is educationally valuable”.  Shifting from a traditional teacher to a facilitator of learning requires that teachers look into what the new media provides for education, while still supplementing and teaching the skills needs to become successful citizens in a rapidly changing society.

Issue number 2: The Displacement of the Social Setting

Postman states, “Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents. Whereas a classroom is a place of social interaction, the space in front of a television set [is not.]”.  Without continued practice collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  We have done exactly what Postman has described as displacing the classroom as a social setting.  We need to ensure classrooms have not become mind-numbing places where we place students in front of TVs, computers, iPad, and other electronic devices without a purpose, and without developing the important skills such as the ones highlighted by ISTE.

What does this mean for Education Today?

As we look at how we have integrated technology and Audiovisual Technology into our classrooms.  We need to begin to look at how Sesame Street and other educational TV can change and revolutionize education in the 21st century.  Education has changed since 1985 when Neil Postman wrote: “Amusing Ourselves to Death”.  Check out the visual our classmates shared on the changes in technology into recent times.

We have incorporated technologies such as Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and 1-to-1 classrooms.  We can get students to interact with what they are viewing, Kahoots, Quizizz, blogging, connecting on Microsoft Teams.  Netflix even has Choose your Own Adventure Style movies.  AV technologies have changed and thus education also changes. The key is that learning with AV technology needs to be unpacked. It needs to be thought about critically, allowing time for students to connect.  As we have shifted into a phase of online learning, my classmate Catherine made an excellent point, “One of our biggest needs is developing relationships with students so we can create meaningful learning experience”.  To be an effective teacher you need to have a relationship with your students, as well as foster student-to-student relationships.

In a blog post recommended by my classmates, Audiovisual Development and Education bring up the excellent point in the conclusion, “it is not the medium that controls the efficiency of communication, but appropriate media or a combination of the medium needs to suit particular user and content. Text has different affordances than AV media; effective communication is achieved by different media complementing, but not replacing each other.” Teachers are no longer the knowledge keepers, we have become facilitators of knowledge. As such, we need to teach students to have the skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

Comments (2)

  1. Reply

    Such a great, compact post Curtis… In researching for our project and tying them in with learning theories, I am so grateful we have come so far in education. I do not think I could teach like they did back when teachers were expected to be the knowledge keepers and just simply deliver the knowledge to students. How blah and boring… I never would have survived. It really reminded me of a factory line where we gave them the parts in an assembly line… Very robotic and no thought process. The days would have dragged on for me. I am so glad we are at the point we are now and as a teacher I am very grateful to be able to network and learn from others. The little things I learned from you have helped me so much. And the fact that we are facilitotors of knowledge means I can show my students something small and see where it may take them… They are the drivers of their own learning which is so much more exciting, so much more rewarding and allows me to grow and learn too. Thanks for your thoughtfulness!

  2. catherineready


    Great post, Curtis! I enjoyed the format of your post and found it to be a very enjoyable to read. You bring up a good point about teacher responsibility shifting over the years, partly due to technology. These shifts are not bad, but it is something we need to be aware of especially when considering the importance of digital citizenship in schools today. There are lots of connections in this course with past Edtech courses we have taken!

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