Like children often do: Children’s programming as a subversive act and how to bring UCB back

I’ve been kicking this idea around for a decade. It came initially, and probably subconsciously at first, from a movie I saw as a kid. It’s a problematic film based on a book. But the takeaway was educating people…an act most subversive. The movie is The Power of One.

We’re not teaching critical thought to kids. Critical thought isn’t a philosophy class. It’s a skill you can use on any classroom context. I learned it initially in International Baccalaureate education because it’s diffused through the entire curriculum. Ok, you got the answer right, but why is it right? And how did you get here? What did you learn from trying?

It starts with a mindful understanding of how to think a problem through. Iterated over any subject, you not only impart knowledge on a student, you give them a tool to propagate learning. And then they can carry that tool wherever they go.

Civics and health are probably the areas I’d most be interested in teaching. They have immediate application in a child’s life. Everyone lives in a body and every lives in a society. But we fail children in these two areas. Keeping them ignorant about their bodies and about their society makes them docile, manipulatable and possibly complicit in their own subjugation.

We’ve done everyone a great disservice, and it hasn’t been unintentional. It’s a subversive act to teach kids. But it’s only effective if you can get their attention in the first place.

How do you teach these things and get them to stick? Ask any Gen Xer and they’ll tell you: television programming. My generation was indoctrinated through propaganda. Some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it ridiculous.

The good: Schoolhouse Rock, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Free To Be You And Me, NBC’s The More You Know campaign

The bad: the “Very Special Episode” and “This Is Your Brain On Drugs

The ridiculous: Desperate Lives, in which Helen Hunt uses PCP once, breaks through a second story window, lands on the ground and starts cutting herself with a shard of glass.

If I have any skill set, it’s absorbing information, synthesizing it and then communicating it effectively through an entertaining means. I don’t know how I came to possess these skills, I just know I have them and I teach people stuff all the time, and then they trust me and come back asking for more. I just don’t have a portal through which to effect my goals.

Yet.

If I had my druthers, I’d be teaching kids about civics and health issues where Sesame Street ends. Fourth and fifth graders. I’d just make it cool enough to Gen X parents that they wouldn’t mind their kids staring at a screen while I plant seeds in their kids’ heads.

I need to hook into a collaboration. Probably my favorite of all the education series I watched as a kid were:

Encyclopedia:

Square One:

Beakman’s World:

If you are familiar with the shows or you watched some of the clips, you see a pattern. It’s educational content done as sketch comedy. The writers took their cues from Second City and SNL. So, of course, now that Gen Xers are grown up, we expect our comedy to be smart. We have expectations built upon satisfactory experiences as kids.

So, get a bunch of out of work UCB sketch writers together with teachers and create a curriculum. Get UCB performers to act in it. Film it with mobile phones. Edit it in iMovie.

It can be done during Covid times. Quibi is the perfect app to do it with. Watch The Princess Bride reboot on there. It’s episodic and features every actor you know and some you don’t in five minute delectable morsels. The whole thing is shot in backyards and using Legos.

You don’t need high production values if the scripts and acting are strong. The main cost is paying talent (because people can’t pay their rent with exposure).

Quibi could be the place to land a proof of concept. And then you get Sesame Workshop, the successor to Children’s Television Workshop, to put it on the air in a place where kids who don’t have reliable internet access can watch it.

It’s 100% doable. And right now is not just an acceptable or good time to do it. It’s necessary.

Edit: I forgot about Roundhouse! How could O forget? It’s what Rent could have been if it had been better.

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