Dennis Volkert: A trip down Sesame Street

Dennis Volkert

"Sesame Street" has been on the air for 40 years. That’s a long time without a commercial break.

The groundbreaking educational children’s show was unique for its time. That’s part of what made it groundbreaking. And unique.

The concept seems simple in retrospect: The show looked like pure entertainment, but its goal was to educate. The idea was later adapted by programs such as “The Electric Company,” “Zoom” and “Donahue.”

It’s easy to take for granted that a TV program can help kids learn stuff through characters like a math-obsessed vampire and a store-owning marionette who looked eerily human.

Although I was at prime viewing age at the inception of “Sesame Street,” I didn’t watch it much until I had already learned my A-B-Cs and at least three-fifths of the rational numbers.

The show still fascinated me long after I left the target demographic. By the time I watched with much regularity, my attention was focused around the fringes. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my first true foray into pop-culture analysis.

Fortunately, I still have my notes from 1974. Here are some things that ran through my mind when I watched “Sesame Street” back then.

- That cartoon dog thinks the capital letter “I” is a bone, despite the girl’s insistence that it’s an alphabetical object, and not something to chew on. I admit, an “I” does look like a bone. That’s why most dogs are smarter than people.

- “Big Bird." Really? Could they come up with a less obvious name? Why isn’t Kermit known as “Green Amphibian”?

- Let me guess: The dude is gonna trip and drop all those pies again.

- Quattro? I thought it was pronounced “four.”

- Cookie Monster: “Me want cookie.” Who teaches grammar in your neighborhood? In your neighborhood? In your neighborhood. Say!

- Mah-Na Mah-Na.

- Why are all the guitar players in the band left-handed? [Note: I mistakenly mixed in my notes from “The Muppet Show.”]

- The voiceover says, “‘Sesame Street’ is a production of the Children’s Television Workshop.” That must be where the kids manufacture TV sets.

- According to first-season analysis by the Educational Testing Service, cognitive skills of this show’s viewers had increased by 62 percent. Let’s see them come up with a catchy song for that!

Dennis Volkert is features editor at the Sturgis Journal in Sturgis, Mich. Contact him at