For a few months I have been thinking about writing about the Dutch version of Sesame Street, called Sesamstraat. There are twenty international co-productions of Sesame Street. That means that they use the set and characters of Sesame Street, but the language and names are Dutch, as an example. It is very odd to watch at first, as the voices are not the voices we Americans are used to. You are hearing Dutch come out of Big Bird’s beak.

Ah, Big Bird. The bird has gotten a lot of publicity this past week as he was mentioned in the first presidential debate. The funding of Sesame Street has long been debated by politicians as the government gives some money to public television and that includes Sesame Street.

When I graduated from  college and moved to Massachusetts, I could not find a job. I ended up taking care of two small boys, basically I was Mary Poppins without the singing and magic. I had never seen an entire episode of Sesame Street before, but I was now their audience as the boys loved this show. Soon, I was hooked on it and looked forward to watching it each day.

Sesame Street has succeeded for 43 years because it respects children. It knows that children want to laugh. It knows that you can teach without lecturing and small children respond to silliness, music and bright colors. If you want to teach children how to count, have a Count who counts everything. If you want to talk about friendship, just watch a scene with Bert and Ernie. And if you want to show children what grouchy looks like, all you have to do is spend a few minutes with Oscar. Children around the world learned the alphabet and they also learned how to spell by watching this show. Sesame Street has never been a real street, but we wanted it to be.

We all want to live on a street where people smile and greet each other by name. We want to live on a street where people are treated with kindness and respect. We want to work on a street where the customers are also our friends. Sesame Street has always been a safe place to play and to talk about funny things and also some sad and scary things. When Mr. Hooper died, it was talked about in a way that was honest and loving. When 9/11 happened, it was not ignored. Children learned about people with disabilities and they saw a variety of colors on the street. No one judged Grover because he was blue or Elmo because he was red. It made no difference what you looked like on the street, you were just accepted.

I want to live on Sesame Street! This is the way the world should be. This is the show that world leaders should be watching to see how it can be done. Big Bird is the mascot of the street. He is over 8 feet tall and bright yellow and young. He is the symbol of the street and his friends are our friends. Children love him because he makes them smile. They see themselves in him and they would love to know him. When you see children with Big Bird, they run to him with their arms open wide. There is no fear, they know him. They trust him and love him. And he loves them back.

The idea that the American government would consider cutting funding to this show and other shows on public television is mind boggling. It takes a lot of money to run a show, and Sesame Street does receive private grants and sponsorship, but it is not enough. The show is on 5 days a week and it all takes money. If political leaders want to talk about investing in education, in our children, then it seems to me that Sesame Street has been a fabulous teacher.

Before I step off my soapbox, I will just say that we need to leave Big Bird alone. Let Sesame Street do what it does best, and find other places to cut spending. This street is seen in over 140 countries, and that means that children all over the world are all part of a super classroom. Imagine a world without Snuffy, Cookie Monster, Gordon, Bob, Maria, Susan and Luis. Imagine a street where The Twiddlebugs did not exist.

It is not the street that we know and love.

Recommended reading: Brian Selznick, who wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret (it became the wonderful film HUGO), has a new book out called Wonderstruck. In my mind, it tops Selznick’s previous book and that really says something. Wonderstruck is fantastic storytelling and is simply perfect in every way. If you are looking for a gift idea for a child, this is the book. It won’t surprise you to hear me say that this is completely appropriate for adults and should be required reading for anyone age 10 and above. The pleasure will be all yours.

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  • Sandra  On October 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Save Big Bird! I agree.

  • Aledys Ver  On October 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    It would be an absolute shame if they decided to stop funding Sesame Street! I can’t think of a world without it. Sesamstraat actually helped me a lot to learn Dutch in my early days as a new comer in the Netherlands and I am not ashamed to say that I watched it every day trying to figure out what they were saying!

  • Jane Moore Houghton  On October 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Bravo my friend! The fact that Romney even mentioned this as a possible way to pay down our debt is just ludicrous! The amount the government pays to Public Radio and TV is nominal next to what we spend on war and defense. I think living on Sesame Street is looking like the best option every day. Thanks Janie.

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