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Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I love the Muppets. The Muppet Movie is still one of my all-time favorites that I re-watch at least once a year. The Muppet Show was formative for me. I squealed with delight when they brought back Fraggle Rock on AppleTV. I’m even cautiously holding out hope that the latest reboot for Kermit and the Gang on Disney+ will be good. 

But for most Gen-X kids, Sesame Street was the gold standard for our childhood TV memories. I love Sesame Street. I watched “live” the day they dealt with Mr. Hooper’s death. I would scream with laughter as Ernie tormented Bert (a particular highlight was when they went fishing - look it up). Everyone knows the little girl who dissolved into giggles while trying to say the alphabet with Kermit because she keeps saying Cookie Monster instead of the letters and they even put up a low-fit image of Cookie Monster up in the corner of the screen instead of the letters. I still know all those old-school songs by heart. 

In honor of that, my Zoom background is Sesame Street, pre-gentrification Sesame Street to be precise (compare this picture with a more recent one to see what I mean). Day in and day out, I meet and work with faculty to help them redesign their courses for online/hybrid/hyflex/distance delivery. If I move a certain way, they see Big Bird peeking out over my shoulder. Some know what the image is immediately, others it takes the appearance of Big Bird for it to make sense. 

A faculty member finally asked me, why Sesame Street, and when I took a moment to think about it, I realized that I could have gone with any number of other Muppet-themed backgrounds: the “let’s put on a show” spirit of The Muppet Show, the kindness and tolerance of Fraggle Rock, the closing scene of The Muppet Movie where we are being inspired to keep dreaming.  

Instead, I chose to stick to this one because of what Sesame Street represented: the opportunity to harness technology to educate. When Sesame Street was first being conceived, the idea of educational television directed to pre-school children was laughable, but the Children’s Television Workshop, Jim Henson’s crew, and all of the actors and performers proved everyone wrong and created a show that actually had a noticeable and positive impact on children and their development. 

It was a multiracial cast set in a place that looked familiar to so many of its intended viewers, aired on public television, and was based on careful research. I wanted to keep the spirit of the original show alive with my choice of background, now that Sesame Street looks so different and lives on HBO-Max. As I work with faculty who before this moment have dismissed or avoided online teaching because they didn’t think it could be done well, I want them to remember that the same was said about Sesame Street. That meeting students where they are, paying attention to who they are, and using what we know about learning, can be a lesson for educational TV as well as what we are trying to accomplish this fall. 

I want to get them (back) to Sesame Street. 


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