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Archive for the tag “Sesame Street”

Won’t you be my neighbour ?

Years back, I found Mr. Rogers’ television show for kids slow and tedious, his repetitive sweaters and sock puppets. Yet I also thought Sesame Street a rush of characters, often pondering how teachers would be able to compete with the dazzling two minute segments of colours, charming puppets, etc. I suppose we see life from our own jaundiced perspective and these competing notions of too slow or too fast reinforced in me the Ralph Waldo Emerson mantra of taking the middle road. But truthfully, having to choose in those years, I, and my children chose the flash, dazzle and puppetry of Sesame Street, not comprehending the perhaps deeper more soulful rationale embraced by Fred Rogers.

However, the recent documentary Won’t you be my neighbour made me realize that Fred Rogers had purposely slowed down the world to thoughtfully and calmly incorporate children into it, rendering it comprehensive to wee folk. From Pittsburgh and in league with the best new thinkers of the time, Drs Brazelton and Spock, he worked to open up relationships and encourage children’s voices and feelings. Outspoken against the silliness and violence in Howdy Doody and Saturday morning cartoons shows, his segments attempted to explain the inexplicable in gentle terms: a week on death; a discussion of the meaning of the word, “assassination” when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down; integration with the show’s Officer Clemens in a plastic tub when in the outside world, bleach was poured into swimming pools in which black people swam. Big questions for little people who were beginning to comprehend the wide world of confusion and wondering what to make of it.

I found the documentary wise, engaging, and perhaps a bit slow mimicking Roger’s measured approach as he rejected a life at the seminary for writing, acting and producing Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood . He realized the importance of the new medium, television. His insight into its power and impact on developing minds resulted in a show that should not have succeeded for it contravened all qualities of accepted television. I watched and listened to Rogers’ make his case to Senator Pastore during Richard Nixon’s reign in order to ensure PBS continued financial support as he cut quickly to the chase: he quoted a little song,”What to do with the mad that you feel,”about children expressing their anger appropriately and guiding it towards control . Voice shaking, but simply, Rogers’ brief explanation ensured the financial support for his show’s programming.

So many years later when apparently we, the psychologists, most professions are in deed aware of technology’s manipulation of youth, and I am disgruntled by television’s manipulation that has veered from Rogers’ simple straight forward truths. Watch any cartoon, any superhero upon which children’s eyes are riveted and you will be cast back to those first days of explosions, car crashes, confrontations, swirling body parts and worse. Our kids cheer for the overloaded actions of death and destruction, the extensive animation extending, twisting, exploding the gore. Yes, it is fantasy, but fantasy that reaches deep into the psyches of our young, especially as it is reinforced time and again, shockingly normalizing it. When Rogers heard of a youngster hurtling himself to death because he believed he could fly like Superman , Rogers focused his show to explain to his young audience the difference between real and make- believe. Today, figures/ humans easily morf from one state to another, kids embracing the transition, apparelled in costumes and weapons.

Rogers’ defence of childhood likely arose from his own memories of childhood as a fat kid bullied, a sick kid confined to bed, living in his own imagination, a child constantly reminded not to express his emotions by his parents, just behave. Rogers never lost that inner child, wanting above all, that every child be loved and listened too, accepted for themselves. Watching his real interactions, and the long lines that formed to meet him, and hearing a disabled child share a duet with him underscored the passion and authenticity of the man. No flashing lights, fancy doodads, just that handmade sweater and a look focused and an ear attentive. Full attention given.

The documentary reminds us that selling to kids should not be the motive behind television, that the early days that catapulted Sesame Street and Rogers Neighbourhood to fame were centred on making the world a better place for kids: for the poor, to equalize opportunities, to promote principles that concerned reading, education and healthy growth in mind and spirit. Ironically what has been learned about childhood evolution has been scorned and forgotten in the name of profit. It’s a sad tale when research is purposely perverted for financial goals.

Do we hear kids laugh when they watch tv shows today? Yes. Do we perhaps join in their laughter at the bad guy trounced or the explosion? Do we ever think maybe a slower attempt to demonstrate reconciliation through friendship or compromise might be better than swords or spaceguns blazing? Maybe. Some of us, the more thoughtful of us, do we not want to fight with the child occupied in the Ipad while we complete our own work, or not want to dislodge the child from the screen, fearing an outburst. Likely, we figure another 10 or twenty minutes won’t hurt and we are, after all, such busy people…

Rogers wrote,

If the day ever came when we were able to accept ourselves and our children exactly as we and and they are , then I believe we would have come very close to an ultimate understanding of what ‘ good ‘ parenting means.

– Mr. Rogers in Mr. Rogers Talks with Parents

So put down your Iphones, push aside your texts, your computers, folks, for this moment will not come again. Use it as an opportunity to look your kid in the eye, listen to their voice right now. What you are doing in your busy, busy life is so less important than responding or being with your child.

Mr. Rogers knew that.So should you.

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Things in Wrong Places

This week my daughter staying here with her two babies looked up at a tall tall tree two houses over and observed a hawk. Yes, a hawk in midtown Toronto at Avenue and Lawrence. She knows because she does these amazing nature walks in the country where she lives in a picturesque town outside of Philadelphia. What was a predatory bird doing in North Toronto?

That got me thinking about things that don’t belong.

The Republican National Convention brought to mind that old Jim Carrey movie, the Truman Show, or what I remember of it. Watching the beautifully scripted and choreographed sons of Donald Trump, I felt as if I were watching a play composed in a studio. Young men who over the years on Celebrity Apprentice who barely uttered more than mono-syllabic grunts of approval to their mega boss were poised and well spoken. My mouth hung open. And daughter Ivanka , the cherry on the ice cream in her perfect pink turning left and right to capture the crowd’s attention, all lauded their ignoramus of a father as wise, hardworking and ever so compassionate as a president hopeful.And maybe he will be! I noticed Trump’s demeanour had been improved and even his down to earth too loud ramble began to sound reasonable: That is the scary bit as the dictator weaves his web with lies and slurs and vague unsubstantiated promises that He can and damn it, will “fix “ America ( to the hoards chanting, “USA…USA…USA…” )and make it right, always capitalizing on fear, he pontificates, Give me the power- and the people on the floor of the convention, the overwhelming number of middle and lower class white Americans in their silly shiny hats and gaping mouths ( like mesmerized me?) cheer and shout approval. Papa will take care of the dragons of government and keep out all the bad people. He will protect you and build walls.

And later on Sunday’s Meet the Press, the same toned down Trump explains that the purpose of the EU was “ to beat America” and by the way, keep all those war- ravaged Syrians in camps at home. So much for the land of the free and the brave. And forget NATO.

My mind like many others imagined the moustachioed dictator who promised similar security for Germany, keeping or exterminating or locking away those rodent- faced Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Catholics and mentally- impaired. The beer halls were full of nodding, applauding folk who burdened down by war treaties like Versailles and restrictions after WW1 were tired of their economic restraints and their humbling by other European countries. Chanting, marching, goose- stepping – remember Regensberg? Nuremberg?to progress with the funny outcast fellow who bellowed and promised pie in the sky, better times, make Germany great again, they desperately wanted to believe.

Amidst Trump’s crowd, one black, one Latino and a few in skullcaps( well, he did say Israel was the only friend in the Middle East) . And my heart sang Shame, shame, shame on you Americans, falling for the lies of the rich businessman. He has exposed himself in debates, in interviews, on talk shows- wherever- as less than a performer and the gall to think he possesses the knowledges to repair America. It truly boggles the mind that he is a possible White House hopeful.Today, July 25, 2016, his rating was 48% to Hillary’s 46. Has the world gone totally mad or are we just watching a egregious TV show where the old guy( with the comb- over ) gets the pretty model like Sophia Vergara?

Sesame Street used to sing, “ One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong…” I know my thinking unusually does not reflect the majority, but none of our friends in San Diego support Trump, and the only person anywhere who said they did was an customs guard we has encountered at the aero port. We were joking about Rob Ford( before his cancer) at the border crossing , and this seemingly gentle , pleasant man volunteered with great pride his choice for the next president of the United States.Gad Zooks! Even Republican hopefuls repulsive Ted Cruz and John Kasich rejected him, one openly lambasting him; the other refusing to attend the Convention.

To jump back to actual fictional, Black is the New Orange, has also reached an incredibly depressing level of life, this time in prison as the privatization of Litchfeld.The humanity of the prisoners is revealed as personages you might chat with at the grocery store or the library appearing devoid of their crimes, heinous or not: contextually stories even make one sympathize with their reasons for being jailed.They hang out, complain about the food, tend gardens, do nails, confide their desires for love, companionship and better lives. Fraud, swindling and even murders are comprehended as the endgame due to incredible circumstances. The women, all races, colours, sexual orientation are almost mundane as girlfriends.

However,overcrowding and the imposition of psychotic guards have distorted circumstances to such an unbearable degree that inmates ( in the last episode) have rioted, peaceful tactics and sitins having been abandoned. Brute force trumps any reason. Again, it is the rule of the ignorant, the bullies to have the inmates taught “ manual education” as opposed to opportunities for true learning, forcing them to actually build more institutional cages, even destroying the small patch of land where a handful of tomatoes and fresh vegetables were grown. To the outside world, their re- education boasts a valuable skill; more lies, repositioning truth for profit.

I am not taking aim at business nor on the basis of one NETFLIX ‘s show decrying or believing that that like Chicken Little that the sky is falling. But as I survey the world With Brexit and Trump and his idiotic talk ( last night’s joke regarding Hillary’s lost emails), daily gun rampages everywhere, the world does seem to be coming apart. Yeats would intone, “things fall apart/ the centre cannot hold…”,ironically in 2016, way past Orwellian predictions of a brave new world. This cannot be what brave looks like, I fear.

 Ban guns, listen and hear the voices of the oppressed, don’t forget the past, and do not vote Trump.

The Sesame Street Phenomenon

When I was still at OCT, I often had occasion to work at the Ministry of Education, attending briefings and conferences. One particular day, I sat beside an employee who was ragging on about her child’s teacher. The woman said, “My child is reading War and Peace and the damn teacher won’t let her read in class. She can do her work and read too.” I suppose I was expected to remark how brilliant her Grade 4 child was, and maybe she was. But although reading Leo Tolstoy is awesome, it is necessary to be appropriate in a variety of places and actually attend to each task we are presented.

Trying not to roll my eyes and be judgmental, I wanted to tell her and her progeny to slow down, and smell the proverbial roses. Or as Heraclitus is reported to have said, “No (person) ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river…” Maybe it’s just baby boomers and their parents, but life moves so much quicker today that often it feels as if we are enveloped in a merry-go-round of images and events.

Personally, I actually charge Sesame Street for the phenomenon of attention loss and the increased frenetic pace of life. When my kids were little and Sesame Street had just come into being, their goal apparently was to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.” Endowed by The Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation and two years of research, Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) developed a show that reached millions of children.

Unlike Mr. Greenjeans, Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Pockaroo and others who maintained a human pace of interaction, Sesame Street was fast, funny and furious. In truth, the animation and colourful sets made the others look dowdy and slow-dare I say boring? Jim Henson’s puppets in particular were thrilling and hilarious: the dour reflective Kermit the Frog, the outrageous pink-boa wrapped and overbearing Miss Piggy, the humming Swedish chef all tossed into the Sesame Street mix that taught about relationships, alphabets, sensitivity and the minutiae of a pre-schooler’s everyday existence.

Even thirty years ago, I recall wondering how will an ordinary teacher, bespectacled, polite and ever smiling, ever compete with this phenomenon. In 30 seconds or usually less, the characters emblazoned in boldly textured costumes immediately grabbed their audiences and taught them something exciting : like the powers of the letter M. Bells, whistles, music, noise, over-sized eye catching decorations ensuring memories stuck because of the mass appeal to the senses.

This is not to say it was bad.

Kids’ attention quickly fades and they lose interest. Sesame established equity, especially for toddlers of poverty, providing ubiquitous television learning; however, there is little in real life that can match their pace.

Interestingly or perhaps prophetically, Sesame Street foreshadowed the fast pace of life that would soon emerge as more technology made information emerge more swiftly, thus avoiding waiting time. (That desire for expedience even effecting road rage as we sneer and yell at other drivers when construction on the road has us fuming. )

I think of the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel. A child was offered something sweet and told that if s/he resisted the urge to gobble it down immediately, a second treat would appear. The wait was about 15 minute minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! In follow-up studies, the researchers noted the apparent benefits of delayed gratification were patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower, all of which are involved in self-regulation. I tried this with my grandson, he laughed and persisted a few minutes- which even I could not do. Maybe his tummy was all ready filled with tasty treats. ☺

Everything seems to have sped up.Now we have to be reminded to breathe- in exercise or Pilates classes, to find time in our day to relax. We catch ourselves giggling as the instructor implores us, “B-r-e-a-t-h-e”.

Does anyone remember Hans Selye and his warnings about the impact of stress or The Hurried Child by David Elkind in 1969. We presently believe that it is normal or just part of life to be stressed out as we multitask and, like that crazy juggler with the spinning plates that we once watched open-mouthed Sunday nights on Ed Sullivan, expect to keep it all together, not anticipating the crash. We are so similar to the Cirque de Soleil acrobats hanging upside down, turning ourselves inside out, twirling non-stop, forgetting to take a moment to inhale and exhale.

In a sense, we do feel more powerful, more alive when we think we are accomplishing a lot: we see ourselves as Superpeople, superheroes, able to control, manipulate and maneuver whatever befalls us or the boss throws our way. And in today’s world, we do encounter more frustrations, more bureaucratic curveballs, less means maybe for redress, more opportunities to stuff the issues away,put them on hold, grin and bear it, and get on with the job. And likely, more depression and cynicism, when we reluctantly accept there are many things we cannot control. ☹

Even at home when my computer could receive but not spew out emails, I of course contacted Rogers. Sweetly but disingenuously I was told that there was no problem with the server and to try another Roger’s venue. That I did calmly TWICE, and then again, and again, each time growing in frustration. And each time, serviced by Saleh and then Tyler through live chat- which means you don’t speak but chat with them on-line, each kindly provided me a “link”. The link would not work because my computer could not send emails to contact the link! Finally in desperation, I called Harold V., a friend, knowledgeable in the ways of computers.

Like the doctor who once made house calls in the middle of the night, Harold V. came, spent much time on cleaning up files, answering questions and eventually got around to addressing the problem at hand. I think this typical of people who problemsolve on computers as every aspect of that damn technology fascinates them so, and Harold V. can lovingly discourse on the reasons, possibilities and delights of the hunk of plastic. I try and remind him that users like me just want it fixed and a day of tutorials is meaningless. Once when I worked at OCT, the best instruction consisted of single operations that could be practiced, applied and absorbed so that dulled brains like mine could move on after learning one easy task.

In any case, Harold began to bore into the guts of the machine, who by the way, we take rather seriously, endowing them with personalities and emotions much like avenging angels sent onto this planet to try our patience, incur our swearing and drive us to the edge… Harold said the problem had occurred because my mail program was two years out of date( the machine being an Apple is only 2 years old!) And he would return to clean it up; however, because of the snowstorm that was heavily threatening, he would give it one more try. He suggested we call Rogers again.

We called, and with Harold on the phone, he asked the right questions and John responded appropriately and easily and quickly, remedied the issue. John from Rogers listened.

I reflected on how often we are pawned off or passed on to someone who refuses to hear what we are saying. Likely they are multitasking or cannot be bothered. Best yet, we are angry, filled with seething emotion, smack in the throes of a problem and being put on hold or disconnected doesn’t increase our ability to communicate effectively. However, is there nothing sweeter than a recorded mellifluent voice or musical pap that confronts you while you are pulsing in rage? Talk about stress. We’re like the roadrunners of cartoons in days past scurrying in circles in clouds of dust that gets thicker as we pound our feet in the same place.

Will that little Grade four year remember what is important in War in Peace? Can she possibly in Grade 4? What has the experience taught her about life, handling complex issues and attitudes towards the world? As my early days in the Jane-Finch corridor ( See previous blog “A pair of Ducks)instructed me: it’s all paradox. The more we have, the more confused and frustrated we become, unable to juggle without dropping something of value.

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