DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Was “Sesame Street” Good or Bad?

Written by: on November 12, 2015

“…like you were walking into the middle of a conversation?”

This is what it feels like to open a book, only to discover that the first page inside the cover has a “29″ in the upper right corner. Who absconded with everything up through page 28? Yes, those pages are not extant in my copy of A Social History of the Media.

I suddenly find myself in an incredibly ironic moment. I have a book that discusses the printing press and the internet. In order to read the introduction to my incompletely-printed book, I must visit Amazon on the internet, find this book, and click on “Look Inside!” Here I seek the Table of Contents and attempt to read at least the introduction to the book.

The irony is furthered having just e mailed the book-seller, demanding a new book be sent to me by overnight shipping (a request I’m sure they will deny). Because this entire transaction has taken place online, I cannot run downtown to my local bookshop, complain, and pull a new book off the shelf. When I e mail Amazon to report this particular seller, will they respond in an appropriate manner?

So much for the ease and convenience of online shopping.

Furthermore, will our esteemed lead mentor qualify these thoughts as reflections on the content of A Social History of the Media?

This is an intriguing book. It is history, sociology, political science, and technology and media studies; all rolled up into one. It is engaging to consider all of these disciplines through the lense of media, or with media as the unifying principle.

But we must return to my question: Was Sesame Street good or bad? This question is the context for my reflections on A Social History of the Media.

Part of what struck me in our book-of-the-week is the overlay and intertwining of the many forms of media, and the eras/ages in which each one grew and flourished. There is obviously no date on which radio went away and television took over; nor did books cease to be printed with the advent of Kindle.

It is my general impression that Sesame Street began in an attempt to help children prepare for school, who may have lacked opportunities available to other children. So, this brilliantly conceived, fabulously imaginative, truly educational form and use of television media began. Even we adults were sufficiently engaged that we would sit with our children and watch (even if on occasion they got up and left the room).

But so often in life we stumble across, or into, unintended consequences.

Briggs and Burke wrote quite a bit about “communication,” which is the point of media. Education is inextricably interwoven in and with communication. Teachers, books, film, and other forms of communication transmit the “stuff” of education to children and youth. Sesame Street certainly fulfills that function of transmitting information to children.

But here are three unintended consequences with this advance and use of media:

1. Sesame Street, as well as being educational, is very entertaining. Who doesn’t love to watch Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster? But how is a classroom teacher, without the benefit of cameras, script writers, and rehearsal time, supposed to hold the attention of children for hours every day without that measure of entertainment zip? So while Sesame Street does transmit educational information, it may inadvertently make sustained learning more difficult for children in the long run, simply because the typical classroom is not entertaining.

In the chapter entitled “ Information, Education, Entertainment” The authors write, “The constituent elements in the trinity which gives this chapter its title had not always been identified in the same language as that used in the late twentieth century. ‘Information’ had usually been described in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as ‘intelligence,’ ‘education’ as ‘instruction,’ and ‘entertainment’ as ‘pastime,’ ‘amusement’ or ‘recreation.’” [1] With the advent of “educational programming” the lines or distinctions between the different purposes of the media were blurred.

2. “The long run” is an important phrase, related to the issue of attention span. When children and youth watch popular media, the action is often so fast, and the scenes change so frequently, that their ability to focus on one thing for a long time is damaged. Holding the attention of a child or adolescent for an hour-long class becomes incredibly challenging. Focusing on a black-and-white book page can result in boredom.

3. Reading skill is the third aspect of media and communication that suffers damage. My wife teaches 7th grade language arts. This week she was reading to me from a book about teaching reading. The book points to a study that indicates that reading things online (this is not Sesame Street’s fault) causes us actually to change the patterns of our eye movements as we read. Rather than reading across the page, dropping a line, and then repeating that pattern, the studies have shown that reading web pages results in us reading in an “F” pattern: across the top line, then down the left side of the screen/page, then across again. [2] With this pattern there are large quantities of print-communicated information that is missed.

In our D Min studies we have read about and discussed a number of topics that show what a complicated world we live in because of globalization. The study of media follows suit, being in and of itself very complicated.

In this age of media-aided globalization, part of my D Min focus will study how to use internet media as a means of continuing education for our ministry-trained international students once they return home. We are confident that there will be a number of students who return to nations where it is not legal to convert, or to be a Christian. Obviously there will be no leadership continuing education courses available on site. I hope to invite web specialists onto our training team in order to take advantage of internet media as a means of ongoing training.

[1] Briggs, Asa, and Peter Burke. A Social History of The Media. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, page 179

[2] Jago, Carol. With Rigor For All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2011, Pages 21-22

About the Author

mm

Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

9 responses to “Was “Sesame Street” Good or Bad?”

  1. Jason Kennedy says:

    Mark,
    I sympathize with your plight. I found your blog very intriguing. There are always unintended consequences.

    I would however like to talk about your dealings with the missing pages. With technology, we forget there is bad with the good. We all love Amazon until we have to return something. Then it becomes a hassle. The changes in world such as the Internet has changed the way we think, and it changes how we expect services to be delivered to us.

    I see more and more that customer service has become an ancient practice. This might be due to the fact that a new generation that grew up with the Internet no longer value that service.

    When we have an experience with great customer service, we are surprised because it is rare.

    In an age where people’s faces are in their screens, a face to face warm interaction may mean all the difference.

    Do you see the unintended consequences of churches in this media age as being cold and unfriendly?
    Thanks Marc.

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Jason,

      Regarding customer service: I don’t think it’s a thing of the past, but it “ain’t what it used to be.”
      I don’t think this problem is just with online purchasing. I can still remember when the retailing moto was, “The customer is always right.” That died some time ago.

      My hunch is that customer service is more likely when there is a face to face connection, and especially when there is a personal connection. The service I get at the local Christian book store, where I know the owner, is better than with Comcast.

      Do I see churches being unfriendly as an unintended consequence? No, I think friendly/unfriendly exists because of the character of the church. I saw my church get better and better at being friendly. There were times long ago when people could come and go on a Sunday and not be greeted. More recently visitors are occasionally some of the last people out of the building because so many of our folks talk to them.

      However, I think it is very good to be mindful NOT to let the detachment of online life to affect how we engage with strangers at church.

  2. Aaron Cole says:

    Marc,

    Great title! Great perspective! I love the creativity, you really caught my attention and brought up some very good points in the process. So was Sesame Street good or bad, from your perspective?

    Aaron

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Aaron,

    I guess I see Sesame Street as a mixed bag. No doubt they did great things for thousands of kids. I’m sure there are kids who fell in love with learning because of the show. But I think the end result is mixed because of the problems I listed.

    My perspective on Sesame Street is now pretty old, too, because my kids are grown so it’s been a long time since I’ve watched it.

    But if I had to fall to the positive or negative I’d still fall to the positive.

  4. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Marc:

    Your passion for foreign students should have made this book come alive. When you finished reading the book, what were your “take aways” on your future ministry possibilities? Do you see yourself on the end of a wave or at the beginning of a wave of media?

    Phil

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Phil

      The great encouragement from this book, and the blog interactions, is the potential to be able to provide continuing education for students when they return home. Just the experience of us using the internet for our blogs offers great possibilities. We can reach beyond any barrier with encouragements and input into the lives of those we meet while they’re here.

      It’s hard to know at this point what new wave might be developing. So whether or not I’m on the end of a wave, I know enough to invite people onto a team who know more about how to use media than I do. When we developed a new church logo some years ago I hired a 25 year old to do the finished design. When we created a new web page a year or so ago we hired a 30 year old to do it. That’s how I handle riding the waves.

  5. Marc you’ve summarized the book wonderfully and the three unintended consequences make sense. I also like your ironic opening.
    Sounds like this is a great book for your project.
    -Aaron

  6. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Marc,
    I think Sesame Street saw a glimpse of the future with its entertainment component of education. My youngest son hates mathematics with a passion so at 10 years old, he automatically gives himself an “F” before the school year starts without trying. This school year he surprised my wife and I when we enrolled him in a new school. After the first few days he came home and said, “dad, math is my favorite subject because it’s fun.” My son never got into Sesame Street but one of the reasons the show still has a place with the competing programs is because of the entertaining component to education. In this case, I’d say Sesame Street was good because being a guy in his thirties, I can still appreciate its existence.

    We know there’s a new dimension to technology that is yet to unfold so we need to start bracing ourselves for it. Like Jase said, someone already did the book review so that’s why although you were missing the pages, you were able to go online. I stop buying hard copy books so it’s difficult finding the page numbers using my kindle but it’s much more convenient to read. I also own the first kindle made (black and white) and it reads any book to me even if it’s not an audio book; that feature is missing from the newer ones. Technology is fluid and will continue to evolve, we just need to start saying, “I’m ready for whatever is next.”

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