I’ve been reading a new book Street Gang about the history of Sesame Street. Looking at it today as the most effective form of education in the history of mankind, you would never know that this program almost never got off the ground. Jim Henson was one of the last pieces in the Children’s Television Workshop puzzle of moving parts. And would Sesame Street have been a success without puppets? Unlikely
The most important part so far was reading how Sesame Street got moms in the inner city to turn on the TV and sit their kids in front of it for the show – a new phenomenon in 1968. Sesame Street hired community organizers to get the word out, driving cars with signs, blaring messages through the streets of Harlem, anything – to tell adults to turn it on.
Another technology note:
Most people didn’t know how to dial in a UHF station, like many PBS stations airing Sesame Street. You needed a larger antenna. Some TV sets required a screw driver or special knob to adjust the station above 13 in 1968. Hence the importance of old-style door-to-door advertising and practical advice on how to see PBS.
They held community events one night after another, to educate adults about being the first teachers for their kids. This was media on a grand scale.
I think it is very appropriate to understand Sesame Street in 1968 if you want to know what is needed to make SMS work for feedback in development in Kenya, 2009. The lesson: We need to focus on raising awareness among Kenyans about phoning in what they think about GlobalGiving projects. The technology exists, but no one will use it if we don’t get the word out.