Sesane Street

06-30-1973: Ms. Jane O'Connor was here to talk about 'Sesame Street.'

Editor's note: "Sesame Street" aired it's first episode on Nov. 10, 1969.

In June 1973, Jane O’Connor, one of the early members of the Children’s Television Workshop and original members of the production team that created “Sesame Street,” visited Richmond for a week-long seminar on “Urban Schools” sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) School of Education. At the time, O’Connor was the Editor-in-Chief of Sesame Street Magazine from its inception in 1970.

During her seminar, O’Connor explained how “Sesame Street” writers had to come up with characters and scripts for “deadly serious” subjects. Some of the topics the show aimed to address were problem-solving, social awareness and concern, making a child feel important as an individual, helping children recognize letters and numbers and the differences between big and little, near and far, before and after; reaching non-English speaking children and helping youngsters understand that people can have different viewpoints on the same subject and that’s alright.

O’Connor said a “key philosophy” of the “Sesame Street” staff was the “willingness to be constantly open to changing techniques.”

“We’ve never looked for one formula to stick to. There’s a desire to find new and better ways to do things, to use great variety in presenting things, a lack of illusion that we know everything we’re doing,” O’Connor explained. She suggested teachers use the philosophy in the classroom as well.

O’Connor continued, “Our scripts have always been very loose and actors have been known to put things in…we’ve always been criticized for not using formal English, but most children don’t use formal English and we’ve tried to catch the way they talked.”

The program’s philosophy to remain open to change included a recent bow to the women’s liberation movement—an early 1970s episode showed a little girl helping her father to make a stool, “Up until recently of course, it would have been a little boy helping his father,” O’Connor stated.

The one thing “Sesame Street” street producers avoided was violence. O’Connor said, “Most kids like violence. We keep jazzing up the show to replace the violence that’s missing. Now we have ‘the count’—he’s sort of a Dracula character, but he likes to COUNT.”


Photos: A look back at 50 years of 'Sesame Street'

 

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