Has it really been 50 years of Sesame Street? Our lives wouldn’t be the same without it.
“Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?”
The question will elicit a smile from pretty much anyone you pose it to. Even if Sesame Street wasn’t a part of your own childhood, chances are you’ve tuned in as a caregiver—or at the very least watched one of your favorite entertainers make a cameo (hundreds of videos, featuring stars from Johnny Cash to Meryl Streep, are available online).
But did you know that Sesame Street owes some of its success to the Harvard Graduate School of Education? In fact, Ed School research continues to inform the program even today, more than 4,500 episodes since its debut on November 10, 1969.
Tomorrow, October 2, the school will mark this longstanding partnership with a Muppet-studded event titled “Sesame at 50: Celebrating 50 Years of Sesame Street and Harvard.” In the spirit of celebration, we asked Radcliffe-affiliated scholars and artists to discuss the impact that Sesame Street has had on their lives—and fiendishly forced them to choose a favorite character.
Ayodele Casel, the 2019–2020 Frances B. Cashin Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, is an actor, dancer, and choreographer who is fresh off the world premiere of Ayodele Casel + Arturo O’Farrill, a collaborative show blending music and tap dance.
Favorite character: Count von Count
“Just thinking about Sesame Street makes me smile. I miss it. I remember watching it frequently and eagerly anticipating each segment. I don’t think there was a character I didn’t love.
I loved the 12-count pinball animation. I think it used to come on toward the end of the program! It was my favorite part to sing along to, and I believe I still do. I love the rhythm of 12345– 678910– 11 12! Is it ironic that I chose to devote my life to a musical art form that is built on rhythm?”
Camara Phyllis Jones is the 2019–2020 Evelyn Green Davis Fellow at Radcliffe and a physician who has long worked to understand the impacts of racism—and not just in health care. At Radcliffe, she’s hoping to spark a national campaign against racism by developing allegories to help children as well as adults identify and counteract racism.
Favorite character: Elmo
“Sesame Street was a wonderful resource in the early education of my children, who were born in 1990 and in 1996! We enjoyed the multicultural human and puppet cast, and I especially remember the segments being brought to us by the letters. I enjoyed the songs and the playfulness. Indeed, my husband and I may have purchased all of the Sesame Street VHS tapes available from 1990 to 2000 (including The Muppet Christmas Carol, still a great favorite of mine) and audiotapes (to which we listened on long car trips in the United States and in Aotearoa/New Zealand).
Although my last interactions with it were almost 20 years ago, I still value Sesame Street as an important way to democratize access to quality early education in the United States. Bravo on 50 influential years!”
Anthony Abraham Jack is a Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, and an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A sociologist of education who was a first-generation college student, his first book—The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students (Harvard University Press, 2019)—has just gone into its third printing.
Favorite character: Cookie Monster
“Sesame Street takes me back to staying home from school because I was sidelined by a fever or a relentless cough or something more serious. Whatever it was, physically I would feel icky, my choice word back then. But emotionally, I would be on cloud nine. If Big Bird was waiting excitedly for Snuffleupagus or Count was doing what he does best, it meant that I was home with my grandmother. It meant that I was being taken care of, in the most capable of hands. It meant that I was loved.”