“G” is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street edited by Shalom Fisch and Rosemarie T. Truglio
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2001, 271 pp, $24.95.
In 1969 when Sesame Street premiered, few could have guessed it would soon become perhaps the most famous street in America. Sesame Street has won more Emmy awards than any other series in the history of television (76 to date). It has been viewed in more than 140 countries. In fact, a 1996 survey indicated that 95% of American preschoolers had watched Sesame Street by 3 years of age. More than 1000 studies have examined Sesame Street and its power in areas such as literacy, number skills, and prosocial behavior, as well as formal features pertaining to issues such as children’s attention. This book, compiled during the 30-year anniversary of the show in 1999, speaks to the creation, evolution, and future of the show using a research-based model that has been at the heart of the show since its conception. It describes the Children’s Television Workshop model of merging production, content, and research. This book summarizes the journey the creators took in the early years, describes the outcomes research in several different areas, and speaks to the role Sesame Street may play in future marketing and research.
The first section of the book covers the early years of genesis, when the concept of combining research, education, and television production was novel and almost heretical. The original goal was straightforward: to use television to help children learn, particularly children in low-income families. The details of the preproduction process, including curriculum development and the integration of formative research into the process, are described in the first several chapters. The final chapter of this section is a fascinating presentation of case studies from the first 30 years covering specifics of how the show addressed topics such as race relations, love and marriage, and death and divorce.
The second section focuses on the educational impact of Sesame Street. These chapters cover specific issues, including school readiness, emergent literacy, and social behavior, and describe several longitudinal studies (the longest at 10 years) that assessed the impact on school performance and attitudes toward school. This last longitudinal study, The Recontact Study, found that children who were frequent viewers at age 5 years read more books for pleasure, expressed less aggressive attitudes, and had higher levels of achievement motivation and better grades in high school than did teens who had rarely viewed the program at age 5 years.
The final section of the book addresses the extension of Sesame Street into other cultures and media. This includes sections on the necessary cultural changes in curriculum for different cultures and the outcome studies in these settings. Chapters also address the branching out into different formats such as print media (in both books and the Sesame Street magazine) and software. The final chapter summarizes the content of the entire book and addresses future goals and directions.
Overall, this is a very interesting and well-done summary of both the creative process that resulted in a successful television show and a succinct summary of the research on outcome. Specific sections are perhaps more detailed than the average reader might need, and the most interesting chapters may well be those that use specific examples from the show to illustrate how curriculum was operationalized. Nonetheless, this is a useful resource for the pediatric provider who would like to understand more about television than just saying “turn it off.”