Back to School, Part Four

Published: September 4, 2003
Categories: Uncategorized

Back to School
Part 4: How You Can Tell It’s 1970

anth03sept04aAnother thing we can learn from The Sesame Street Learning Kit is how the world of 1970 was different from the world of today.

For example, in 1970, there were no such things as girls. I was born in 1971, so apparently I was too young to remember the days before girls, but that’s what’s presented here in the Parents’ Guide.

“Help your child to arrange cut-out letters to form his own name,” it says in the Suggested Activities section, “and the names of others in his family and his friends… Discuss with him the essential shape in each letter… Take a walk through your neighborhood and help him discover the basic shapes around him.”

I know, that was the writing convention at the time, but in 2003, it really jumps out. Him, him, him! Just goes to show how much that convention has changed.

anth03sept04bActually, all of the Suggested Activities take us back to a time when mothers would be alone with their children for weeks on end, and had to come up with endless activities to occupy them.

For example: “Ask your child to look at a page from a magazine or newspaper and put a circle around all the letter E’s he can find. Repeat from time to time, slowly working through the entire alphabet.” Okay, sure. I have nothing else to do for the next year; that ought to kill some time.

Or how about this one: “See if your child can match numerals with the appropriate number of objects. To do this, you could make a set of cards for both the numerals and for groups of objects. You can do this easily by cutting cereal boxes into cards measuring about two inches by three inches. Have your child cut out pictures in magazines or newspaper illustrating one object, two objects, three objects, and so on. Have him also cut out the numerals 1 to 10. Have him paste each numeral and each group of objects on a separate card. See if he can match the cards. If he has trouble finding appropriate pictures, he can draw his own on the cards.”

anth03sept04cAnd when you’re done with all that, you can both lie down on the living room rug and wait for the room to stop spinning. The mothers of 1970 must have had infinite supplies of patience. When I was a kid, I mostly remember watching Bugs Bunny cartoons and fighting with my older brother; I must have been sick the day that we made our set of numeral cards.

Another difference in the world of 1970 is that Sesame Street didn’t have model sheets yet to tell the illustrators how to draw the characters. Man! Can you believe this? The art in Sesame Street books was pretty messy and strange until the late 70’s, but this stuff really takes the cake, doesn’t it? We’ll see more of this later on.

Here’s some more things we saw in 1970 that we don’t see much of anymore:anth03sept04d

Rotary phones…anth03sept04e

35-cent cigarettes…anth03sept04f

An orange Oscar…anth03sept04g

a green Grover…anth03sept04h

and check out Ernie’s funky glasses! They’re supposed to be magic glasses that let him see invisible things. And what’s that big arm behind him? You don’t see many of those anymore.

Here’s another cute historical note. On the back cover of each of the books, there’s this disclaimer: “If Sesame Street is available in your area, your child may have seen many of the elements in this book on the program. He might enjoy using this book in conjunction with the show. However, it is not necessary to watch Sesame Street to be able to use this book successfully. It has been designed and created for independent use in all parts of the country.” So don’t worry, farm brats. We’ll get to you eventually.anth03sept04i

Finally, there’s one last telegram from 1970 in this excerpt from the Parents’ Guide: “Billy wants to be a doctor,” says the caption here. And then over on the left side: “Ask the children, ‘What does it mean to be grown up? What can a grown up do that you can’t do?’ Ask each child what he wants to be when he grows up. Then ask, ‘Jane, what will you have to learn before you become a nurse?'”

Well, gosh, Jane will respond. I guess first I’ll have to learn why everybody keeps calling me “he.”

So there were girls, after all! Who knew?

by Danny Horn

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