As several of my classmates have stated, I grew up watching Sesame Street. I found Elmo’s high pitched voice and third person references quite irritating, but I loved Bert and Ernie. I loved their familiarity and relational selves. I loved their banter and individual passion for specific topics. I giggled when I watched Ernie with his rubber duck, but I loved Bert’s pigeon dance…
Postman’s statements that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street” and that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents is based on several notions that he points out in his article, Learning in the Age of Television. He indicates that Sesame Street is a series of short commercials meant to entertain that uses puppets, celebrities and catchy tunes. This is true. He also indicates that television in general refutes the nature of the classroom because it is entertainment for one (no social interaction), asks nothing of the child, allows the child to leave at any time, teaches no concepts of public decorum and whose only purpose is fun. Even most of this may be true.
While I don’t dispute Postman’s statements of what television is meant to do or how it differs from the classroom, I question why we are comparing the two. Are educational television and schooling supposed to be the same? Isn’t it okay if children learn from different vehicles of information? Does all learning need to look alike?
I think Sesame Street did a good job of understanding its demographic and what they needed to provide to educate, entertain and engage their viewers – likewise, educators need to understand their demographic. Who am I teaching? What do I need to do to most effectively deliver curricula? How will that look? What do my students need – academically, emotionally, socially? How will I engage them and make them feel like they belong?
The answer to these questions is always evolving because my students are always evolving. While my job would be much easier if it didn’t change, the core of my job is people and people are never static because the world is not static. I must embrace change to stay relevant in my practice.
A core component of education is engagement and I think we should be aware of how students are changing and how that engagement piece looks – for example the implementation of BYOD or smartphones in the classroom. I’m sure Postman would shutter at the thought. But as with all technology, balance and intention is so important. When I choose to use technology in the classroom whether it is educational TV (which I regularly use), iPads, smartphones, polls, chats, etc. my job is to use the technology intentionally – for a specific purpose, and to balance its use. In addition, being aware of the negatives is part of being intentional and using the technology – not enough devices, misuse during class, inequality between students, etc.
I believe using technology which students are engaged with in their “outside-of-school” lives is useful in engaging them within school. I think it creates a “relatability” for students. I believe I can use technology to engage students and help to teach them to be critical thinkers as they navigate their world through technology. I also believe technology is not necessary for everything. There are other means to engage and teach critical thinking.
As a teacher, my job is to choose and use tools that advance my students’ learning and thinking and engage them. I don’t expect technology to replace my expertise just as I don’t (didn’t) expect Sesame Street to replace the fundamentals taught within the classroom. As I mentioned previously, my experiences with Sesame Street bring warm memories. I was entertained. I did learn from Sesame Street, but I learned immeasurably more as a student in my classroom … and I loved school (insert gasp). Was I an anomaly? I don’t think so.