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Monday, February 20, 2006

Remembering Electric Company

Slate reminisces nostagically about the now defunct PBS children’s show Electric Company. I’m so out of the know I didn’t even realize the show had gone off the air; I thought it was still playing in its umpteenth incarnation as Sesame Street is. Anyway, writer Emily Bazelon details some of the points that made EC a fun show to watch, even while it was teaching children valuable lessons.

For those of you who have never seen or heard of the show, EC premiered on PBS in 1971 and, unlike its predecessor Sesame Street, was aimed at older children who might have been turned off by Sesame Street’s more puerile content. As Bazelon points out, the show provided "Saturday Night Live" type skits and spoofs where children could learn lessons within a situational context. The show signed on some big names to its cast, including Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Irene Cara (from Fame fame) and a very young Morgan Freeman. As a matter of fact, I can vaguely recall Freeman’s turn as the street cool character Easy Reader ("Easy Reader...that's my name...I say...mmm...mmm...mmm.") Imagine the jolt I got watching Easy Reader in his first dramatic turn playing a vicious homicidal pimp in the 1987 movie, Street Smart (for which he earned accolades). It just didn’t seem to jibe that this horrible character was played by the same guy who was so fun to watch on a children’s show.

In addition to Easy Reader, there was Spider-Man, the Punctuation Brothers, Count Dracula (again Morgan Freeman) and so many other colorful characters that kept the show entertaining.

Bazelon compares EC to today’s children’s programs that include Dora the Explorer, Arthur, and Blues Clues (none of which I’m familiar with, although I have heard of Dora) and finds that the present-day simply shows don’t match up to the learning experience that EC provided.

Although I can’t compare personally (no kids to watch these shows with), I can only recount how EC helped me with a pronunciation problem I had back in the third, fourth, maybe even the fifth grade. Being taught by teachers whose only incentives were collecting their paychecks, I can say that I didn’t get a premiere education and fell through the cracks on a lot of lessons. One of those lessons was how to pronounce words that began with the letter s. Certain folks believe that what kids don’t learn in class they will pick up by osmosis somehow, which is why kids today are woefully underlearned and unprepared to compete in today’s market.

My inability to pronounce sibilants was an embarrassing secret I kept to myself, not even revealing it to my mother. I got by by converting the s to fr for some reason. Which meant that when I pronounced my school’s name, which was Schmid at the time, it came out like “frid.” Then one day I was home watching EC and the particular lesson at that moment was pronouncing s words. Imagine my delight when within a few minutes time, I was pronouncing words that I thought I would never be able to pronounce. “Just say “sssssss…”; simple lesson right? I should’ve known right? But again, if a child isn’t taught, don’t expect her to know. From then on, I was able to pronounce my sibilants, thanks to EC.

So, like Bazelon, I wish they would bring back EC, either the original shows or at least in some kind of incarnation. Today’s children could benefit from some of the lessons EC taught. Maybe then society can stop asking why Johnny, Tiffany and Jamal can’t read.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/20/2006 08:15:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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