In all this talk about numbers there is nothing about what they are for, or how people use them in the world, or how children use or might learn to use them. Numbers are for measuring. Why not show people measuring things in the real world? Why not have adults or older children show younger ones some of the tools or devices we use to measure with, and how to use them—ruler, tape measure, scales, thermometer, barometer, clock, watch, stopwatch, metronome. Why not show some of what we do with these measurements, how we write them down, what we use them for, what we can find out from them? Since certain small children appear regularly on the program, why not from time to time measure their heights and weights, make graphs of them, and show the watching children how to do the same? Why not show children how to hear and measure the rate of their own heartbeat, and compare this with swinging pendulums, or with a metronome? If we are going to use animated cartoons to talk about 7, let us show a cartoon character measuring a thing seven inches long. Better yet, a real basketball player seven feet tall. Or we could show a stopwatch marking off seven seconds, or a scale with a seven-pound weight, or someone jogging seven miles per hour. And so on.
Finally, there is the remarkable failure—could it be a refusal?—of the program to use as a visual and learning resource the city around it, the environment in which most of its intended viewers live. With all the streets of New York at hand, why does the pro gram have to be staged on an imaginary street? Could not at least some of the show be filmed on a succession of real streets, in New York or perhaps other cities, with the real children and people of the neighborhood? Surely it would cause great excitement in any neighborhood if everyone knew that Sesame Street was coming to visit them. Such a visit might do a great deal to pull a neighborhood together, and to create a new sense of community ‘and local pride, from which the children could only benefit.
Or we could take the camera, perhaps shoulder mounted, to any one of a thousand interesting places in New York, or other cities—to airports, to docks where ships, goods, and food come in, to markets, businesses, manufacturing plants, newspapers, TV studios, museums, city councils, courts. The puppets could talk about these visits later. We could show one or more children exploring different parts of the city, using the city as a resource far richer than any school could possibly be. We might, among other things, show children using public transportation—finding a subway station, going in, reading a map to figure out how to get somewhere, asking directions, buying tokens, getting on a car, and so on. Same thing with buses. On a recent show we had a puppet child telling a puppet policeman that he was lost. Why puppets? Why not show a real child looking for a real policeman, and the ways and places in which real policemen are to be found? If a poor black kid who is lost can get kindly help from policeman, let’s show it happening. If he cannot, let’s skip the whole idea and not sweeten it up with puppets. Better show children instead how not to get lost, how to read and use maps. Television can demonstrate that a street map is a very simplified picture of a city taken from above. Why not look at aerial photograph of an area, or neighborhood, then gradually blur out the details of the photo to make a map, put in the names of the streets, and then have a child use the map to get around that same neighborhood? An actor in the program plays the part of a grocer. Has New York City run out of real grocers? Why not film the action in real grocery store and tell how food gets into them, and explain the things that must be done before the food gets on the shelves? Why not let children discover where their food comes from—and please, no Dick and Jane farm with one cow, one duck, one horse… Here again, the matter of pace is important. On a recent show there was a film clip of trains, the camera swooping in and out, and the Swingle Singers singing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. All very nice, but much too fast and remote for small children. Much better to show a picture or model of a train, and perhaps a child getting on a real train, giving a ticket to a conductor, getting off, and the like. The child has to be able to put himself in the picture he sees, or else it has no connection with his real or imagined life and world; if it is not part of his continuum of experience, there is no way he can grow or get into it—which is, above all else, what is wrong with almost everything that happens in school, and indeed the very idea of school.