“People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading.” – Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times Magazine
You’ll definitely hear me harp on Sesame Street from time to time. Sesame Street was a gift to my development as a child, teaching me lessons that I didn’t even know would be integral to life both as an adolescent and as an adult.
Here are some lessons that it taught me.
Put Down the Ducky
This musical number is seemingly innocuous – like most of Sesame Street. Ernie keeps hearing squeaking noises when he tries to play the saxophone, and it’s because he tries to play while holding onto his rubber duckie. The song tells him to put down the duckie.
I was using the phrase “put down the duckie” long after I watched this is a child; it was clear to me that if something is preventing you from doing what you want to do, then you need to learn to let go of that thing in your life. This can apply to bad habits, addiction… anything that keeps you from “playing the saxophone.” Sure, you can learn to accomplish your goals while compensating for this weakness that you refuse to give up, but if you know deep down inside that it’s time to let go, you’ll still hear that little squeak when you play.
This metaphor mixes up a little bit with the lighter concept of “it’s okay to let go – if it’s good for you then you’ll be able to pick it up again.” We know that Ernie’s relationship with the duckie is not in itself harmful – he just needs to let go of it for the moment. His friend assures him “you can just pick it up when you’re done!”
Being Proud of Yourself Doesn’t Mean You Need to Bring Others Down
This lesson needs to be taught more. I hear so many people talk about how important it is to have pride.
“I’m proud to be [insert race here]!”
“I’m proud to be a [man/woman/other]!”
Then they go and disparage others. “The white people do not understand blah blah” “You’re cisgender so blah blah.” “This meeting is only for [my group that I have pride in].”
In Fuzzy and Blue, Grover expresses his pride in being born fuzzy and blue. (“It’s just the way that I grew…”) He is joined by Harry Monster, and then Cookie Monster (“me just so fuzzy and blue!”) who enter seamlessly.
Then comes Frazzle. Frazzle is orange. Frazzle is a very different addition to the Sesame Street cast – his appearance is extremely fierce, with bright orange fur, a strong, thick unibrow, and an inability to speak English without a thick gurgle that renders him incomprehensible to non-monster ears. Grover is reluctant at first – or perhaps simply trying to comprehend the pull that Frazzle appears to feel for being involved in a song that is about pride in being blue. (“All right, all right, just thought I’d mention it!”) Then, although the song is practically over, they restart it for Frazzle and modify their refrain:
“We’re fuzzy and blue (and orange!)”
They do this with no outside prompting, no mediating parent, no supervisor, and no union intervention. It’s true – pride in oneself is important, and that involves knowing what it is you’re proud of. I can be proud of being tall – does that have to mean that I’m disparaging short people? No. Short people can be proud to be short, and I can agree with that pride without undermining my own pride.
Frazzle is different, and his friends support his difference and his pride in being different without any insecurity about themselves and what they value.
Interestingly, everything Frazzle says sounds the same (something directly addressed in the show). Who hasn’t made that comment about a foreign language before? Frazzle represents a foreign identity even to Sesame Street – which has monsters, but most of them are friendly colors.
Oscar the Grouch
Oscar the Grouch makes it very apparent that Sesame Street is not a perfect place. He is a misanthropic, grouchy monster that lives in a trash can. He doesn’t enjoy anybody’s company, nor does he want anything to do with learning any lessons.
Oscar is as close as it gets to being a social pariah – my memory isn’t amazing, but as far as I can recall he is the only character whom other characters chide and to whom they even suggest that he needs to change his ways. His life doesn’t look very nice, which could be a cautionary tale… or it could even suggest that Oscar is crying for help by making sure to surround himself with the people of Sesame Street. Whichever it is, Oscar’s grouchiness doesn’t keep the people around him from talking to him or involving him in their conversations.
Sesame Street – with Oscar – is now a complete image. It is not an idyllic, utopian place, it’s a ghetto. Yet, the show is adamant that the place is amazing, with everyone wanting to know “how to get to Sesame Street.” The people (and monsters) of Sesame Street aren’t trying to leave – instead, their reaction to the hand they’ve been dealt is to watch each other’s backs.
The relevant links can be found below, but I want to take this opportunity to make a point. I’m not saying Sesame Street is a gem to the world of television (it is, but I mean that it’s not my main point). I’m saying that the kid shows you put your child in front of have lasting effects that go beyond the obvious – and certainly go beyond that stage of development. We remember the things we see, and they DO stick with us. So the next time you let TV do the babysitting… it’s worth thinking about what you’re letting your kid be inundated with.
Either that or communicate regularly with your child. Crazy talk, I know.
NOTE: Old School Sesame Street and modern, HBO Sesame Street are not the same beasts. As a result, some people argue that old school Sesame Street might not be suitable for children today, as a lot of the concerns modern parents have were not voiced or even present back then. We’re talking a depressed talking elephant that only one character can see, a homeless misanthrope, and a scene where Cookie Monster eats a pipe. If these sound shocking to you, then you know not to watch. If it just sounds like pre-hipster age television, then enjoy.
Or again, you could show it and then just talk to your kids.
I know it’s been a while since I updated the blog. I am still alive, no worries! I realize though that sometimes I don’t use the blog as a blog – look at these entries, they’re like little articles! That’s all well and good, but sometimes I don’t have a topic that I want to harp on but I still need to write to get my thoughts in order, so I’ll put something out like this that just gives a little update.
I’ve made a pledge to get the Podcast out on time, and I intend to keep it. All 7 of you that listen, hear me now! I will get the Podcast out on time! I’ve received compliments from everyone who has listened… but honestly, that could just be because they like me. I’ll be looking for ways to connect with my audience in the future. That’s a win-win, because if it’s other people I’ll get to network and discuss fun stuff, and if it’s just people I know then I’ll just be keeping in touch with them – which is nice to do if they’re showing me love by listening to my Podcast.
(… why am I capitalizing Podcast everywhere? I’m not sure. Maybe because I keep having to make it part of a title. It reminds me of how I used to spell “receive” wrong. I would stubbornly put the i before the e.)
I recently had some new equipment roll in, and the most recent episode is using my condenser microphone from back in my college days. I’ve also bought theme music, and I am enormously satisfied. The instructions involved the words “catchy bass line,” which… tell me that’s not catchy!
Some of my students discovered my Podcast and listened to it in lieu of music during their work time. It was a somewhat strange situation; my students were listening to me talk in front of me doing work for my class, occasionally chuckling and sharing something I said with me as if we were talking about a YouTuber we both watched. I appreciated the love.
Weirdo kids, haha.
I’ve started an experiment regarding teacher interaction. I noticed that students were extremely defensive when beginning an interaction; in particular, the standard acknowledgment of being addressed was “What?!” or “Huh?” The first one was a sign of being on guard, the second one to buy time while they figured out if they were in trouble. I decided that I wanted an interaction that was guaranteed to be positive, one in which they wouldn’t have to wonder if what I said to them was going to be positive or negative. No guessing games.
So, I decided that every Friday, I would acknowledge a student in each period that I judge to be “killing it” and acknowledge their success, along with a small boon of candy. The reaction so far has been very positive, with students applauding their peers enthusiastically. I rather like the idea of looking for reasons to reward students instead of looking for reasons to take points away.
I’ve gotten back into reading recreationally in a big way (and the worn case on my Kindle is starting to show it)! After reading the new Stormlight Archive book, I decided that I might do some blog entries that are character studies of the characters I really liked in the series, which hopefully would attract the attention of fellow enthusiasts and stir discussion up about them. Yeah, either that or people will read the books – or, barring that, they’ll just read what I have to say about them and find the insights interesting.
In order to do that, I decided to reread the first two books – a monstrous task, but one I’m really enjoying. I’m about 70% of the way through the 2nd book, and I think I started with the first book about – what, early January? I’m not 100% sure. I’m 20% sure that I was 40% of the way through 56% of the series so far after about three-fourths of the month had –
I’m trolling. Don’t try to follow those numbers. Suffice it to say with a disturbingly visual figure of speech that I’ve been devouring the books despite it being a reread.
I also started looking at doing some writing on Medium, but only after I get the flow down for this blog and the Podcast. Don’t want to take on too much and just suck at all of it!
I promise to update with stuff about the Napa Google Summit and Dragon Ball FighterZ thoughts soon. This weekend is going to be STUFFED!
I plan to release something fun musically soon as well.
Until next time!
My parents sometimes sent mixed messages when it came to fighting. They were adamant that I not start a fight with anyone, to be sure. However, they were – or at least my father was – just as adamant that if I were to get in a fight that I be ready to teach the attacker a lesson. This wasn’t an official thing, but if I told my dad I got hit, I remember him asking if I made the attacker sorry.
The whole fighting mechanism speaks to a frustration and inability to express oneself – specifically, the emotion of being upset. I didn’t know this when starting as a teacher, but apparently growing up in today’s society automatically means that you don’t know how to express anger and frustration without beating into someone’s face. Why is this still a thing? It doesn’t make sense to me. We have the words to express ourselves. We have YouTube for comparison, gifs for emotions… why is violence still a thing? Is there no replacement for the catharsis involved?
Or is it just… easy?
About one in four high school students reports having been in a physical fight in the past year.
Today, there are so many opportunities with social media to talk smack and say the wrong thing. Push someone a little bit too far. Something you post for one person can look like shade to another person. Even the best of texts can be re-read by someone and reacted to the next day. Worse, the immediacy of social networking means that the offense can reach scores of people and give every sleight a built-in audience.
Social media also rewards spectacle. A fight is a spectacle. Social media has taught students to flock to spectacle instead of avoiding it.
My father had a saying. He said this: sometimes people want to bring you down to their level, and you have to treat them as you would treat dog poop; walk around it, not through it. (My father is so poetic, I know.)
Lack of Problem-Solving Skills
It is important that we understand that some people have only been presented – either by example or directly – with a few options for solving the problems in their lives. In fact, someone with only the most basic instincts will choose either fight or flight. As a teacher, it is important to immediately make clear to our students that the time of fight or flight has long past – we are in an age of creativity and civilization. Let’s build some pyramids!
Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.
If you have no idea how to talk about your feelings, or are unused to figuring out ways to talk about your feelings, then you’re way more likely to swing at someone. Also, while it takes two to solve a problem amicably in these situations, it only takes one to fight; after all, if one person swings, there are not a lot of people that will not swing back and just take the punches. Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.
Here are some options just off the top of my head for solving problems – feel free to copy this list for home use.
- Apologize for something. What’s that? You’re not sorry? Then lie. He won’t know!
- Never talk again. Be like my dad. Walk around them. Let the poop image guide you. Stay in your lane.
- Write about it. Catharsis! Super important.
- Talk to someone you trust about it. They can give you perspective. Or just take your side and make you feel good without you actually doing anything. Note: choose confidants wisely. You want someone even-keeled.
- Speak plainly. This made me feel _______. This is why.
- Make new friends with someone. Increasing your circle decreases the percentage of conflict.
- Listen to Linkin Park or something. Or anyone with lots of guitars and sadness.
I remember the one time that I wanted to fight someone in high school, I remember a very clear voice ringing in my head through the red haze: “It’s not worth it.” I’m not self-extolling, but the clarity of that voice highlights for me the problem: we need to make sure our students also have that voice.
It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.
Fighting is easy. All you have to do is make a move, and the rest is instinct and consequence, completely outside of your control. This can feel liberating to a stressed, emotional young person. It’s those with the strength to take control of the situation and bear the burden that will bring us toward peace. In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout beats up a boy for insulting her father. It’s not a reaction to danger, but a response to her pride being threatened. Her father stresses that hurting other people and becoming a person who hurts other people is too big of a change to make based on the small-minded whims of those who would insult you. It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself. Your actions won’t match their slanderous words; they will match your true self. You will have integrity.
A side effect also is that you’ll make them feel lame and insecure because they’ll be all noisy and blustery while you walk away like they’re no big deal. Two for one!
“Physical Fighting By Youth” Child Trends.org. 2017. Web. <https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/physical-fighting-by-youth/>. 11 Dec. 2017.
I was reading The Atlantic the other day and came upon an old article that was freshly linked to via Twitter. (I’ll take “Sentences That Didn’t Make Sense When I Was in High School” for 500, Alex!) This article was about the college admission process – specifically, the questions being asked on applications.
These essay prompts get at some of life’s greatest questions. And as this year’s college application season begins, 17-year-old high-school students around the world are frantically trying to answer with the insight and intelligence that will guarantee them an acceptance letter. Some are searching for profound thoughts and meaningful experiences in their short lives. Other applicants are embellishing the mundane in an attempt to make it sound extraordinary. High school students first come into contact with college through the admissions process. And right now, the first message they receive is: “Pretend to be something you are not.”
It was at this point in the reader-author conversation that my brain rudely interrupted. It went something like this:
What? What are you talking about? I can only assume that this article was written based on some fallacies:
Fallacy #1: Everyone is meant to go to college.
The idea that the question needs to be one that considers everyone is a fallacy because it’s an admission process. By definition, there are certain levels of academic development and abstract thinking at which a student is considered ideal for admission. These criteria can change between schools, but the basic gist is they’re asking these questions because the answer is one that will indicate whether they want you. Whether or not these questions are actually in line with such things may be a different story, but if we assume that they are just from the pure fact that it’s stupid for it not to be considering it’s their question, then the point is so that someone having trouble with the question will fall under the criteria of “go somewhere else.” If that’s not the case, then the question would indeed need to be retooled.
In other words, just because the question isn’t for everybody doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the question. The whole point is to disqualify people until you’re left with the qualified ones.
Fallacy #2: Students are expected to answer these questions definitively.
Julia Ryan continues to blast the admission questions in this article by saying that “College is about the journey. So why are schools asking high school seniors to already be at the end of it?” This implies that questions like “What makes you happy?” or “Describe a time when you overcame adversity.” or “What is the meaning of life?” are all asked with the expectation that students have definitive answers that will determine whether they are college-ready. I’m not an admissions worker or anything, but my answer to this is to point out that this assumption is a fallacy. College is about the journey, as Ryan says, but these questions all give important assessments on the following important points:
- How self-aware is this person? Assuming that I’m talking about what’s in the best interest of the student and the school, I would want to know that the student can reflect on their own conduct and performance before admitting them into a place supposedly devoted to higher learning. Peers are expected to be as much of a contributing factor to the learning environment as the teachers are.
- Where are they on their journey? Rather than expecting a student to be done with a journey, as Ryan claims the askers of these questions are doing, the inquiries discussed here are actually there to determine whether there’s any journey taking place at all – and if so, how reflective is the applicant regarding this journey?
- How do they deal with having to answer questions they don’t know the answer to? You know, the skill needed to get through all of college. This is literally the entire purpose of something being about “the journey,” because being on the journey and not finishing it yet means that we don’t have all the answers. There is very little to suggest that these questions about adversity and the meaning of life are expected to be answered with something definitive, at which point the bitter admissions worker will go “Wrong.” and throw the whole application in the trash. These questions are asked because people don’t have the answers.
All of these are important things to consider when considering a student for admission.
Fallacy #3: College is a place for kids to become adults.
No, not really.
Oh yes, certainly there is growth that takes place in college, but you’re an adult, no matter how many bouncy houses they have at orientation.
I find the perpetuation of this myth that college is for kids to be not only misleading but also alarming, especially as I have seen colleges themselves take this attitude on. Aforementioned bounce house notwithstanding, I found this blog entry about whether college students are adults, and found many passages familiar – and infuriating.
The fundamental problem is that the university no longer thinks of students as adults. Adolescence in American culture has been extended to people’s mid-twenties, and with this stunted maturity, comes the same perpetual message: nothing you do counts right now, so have at it. The students welcome this because it gives them permission to act out and to put off the hard decisions for another five to ten years. But this also means that there are no clear criteria for when adulthood is evoked. Schools only call students adults when they want to punish them or collect their bills, and the students only invoke their own adulthood when they want something they’re not allowed to have. “Adult” has become a term of self-interested manipulation instead of a moral category to be universally acknowledged and respected.
So if the main complaint Ryan is making toward these questions is that college is supposed to provide the answers to these questions and help these kids become adults, I think it’s important to decide before applying what you’re going to be. I think that this excerpt also makes it clear that as far as colleges are concerned regarding the stakes for failure, you are an adult – even if schools only call students adults when it’s in their own interests to do so.
It is here where I shift the focus of this entry, because this is a blog and I don’t have to explain myself to you, even as I do so with this very sentence.
This culture of “emerging adults” is one that must cease, immediately, because it promotes and implies that reckless behavior is the expectation – and worse, implies a cushion of protection by the “innocent” connotation that comes with calling an adult an “emerging adult.” Oh he’s just an “emerging adult,” so he can make mistakes.
Like Weinstein says though, that’s not the real truth is it? You can’t tell the institution that you couldn’t pay tuition because you’re an emerging adult, and you’re still figuring out how to make a budget and stick with it. You can’t tell them that you didn’t know plagiarism was against the law. You can’t tell them that you were inexperienced with alcohol tolerance, and that it’s only being an emerging adult that led you to accidentally urinate on their new statue and steal the Q from McQuarrie Hall. A university will remind you real quick during these situations that you ARE an adult.
So we shouldn’t pretend that college is for becoming an adult when we know college is for adult learners. We shouldn’t attack college admission questions when all we can do is answer them as best as we know how to answer them. Let’s stop lying about the stakes – and if a school asks a question that you feel bad answering, maybe it’s not your school… like a job interview! The interview goes both ways.
- Weinstein, Jack Russell. “PQED: Are College Students Adults?.” PQED. N. p., 2015. Web. <www.pqed.org/2015/07/are-college-students-adults.html>. Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.
- Ryan, Julia. “Applying To College Shouldn’t Require Answering Life’s Great Questions.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group., 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.