Since 1969, “Sesame Street” has been introducing small children to letters and numbers by using clever skits and songs performed by Muppets and celebrities. Patrick Stewart, for instance, reworked Hamlet’s soliloquy as an ode to the letter B (“B or not a B, that is the question”). Now a report by two economists, Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College, has tracked the first generation of watchers (who were under six in 1969). It reveals that children who had access to “Sesame Street” ended up better prepared for school and were 14% less likely to fall behind in class.
The show’s effects are not unlike those of Head Start, a federal scheme that provides poor families with services that include school-based early education. But it costs a fraction as much, says Ms Kearney. “Sesame Street” is not a replacement for early education, which most studies agree is vital; but it is certainly a very affordable supplement. “In essence,” she says, thinking of massive open online courses, “Sesame Street was the first MOOC.”
Kermit the Frog is an entertainment icon known worldwide for his appearances on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, as well as a number of feature films. He attributes much of his success to his thirty-five year partnership with Mississippi native and entertainment visionary, Jim Henson. Kermit has received many honors and accolades for his work, including multiple Academy Award nominations, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a commemorative stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.
You probably don’t know the name Grace Hopper, but you should.
As a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, Hopper worked on the first computer, the Harvard Mark 1. And she headed the team that created the first compiler, which led to the creation of COBOL, a programming language that by the year 2000 accounted for 70 percent of all actively used code. Passing away in 1992, she left behind an inimitable legacy as a brilliant programmer and pioneering woman in male-dominated fields.
Hopper’s story is told in “The Queen of Code,” directed by Gillian Jacobs (of “Community” fame). It’s the latest film in FiveThirtyEight’s “Signals” series.
Deborah Morrison is the chambers distinguished professor of advertising at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Recently, she wrote a piece for Co.Create in which she calls on advertising people to transcend the consumption cycle and train the full might of their creative firepower on what she calls the great and wicked issues of our day. You know the ones: Global warming. Hunger. Energy. Gun violence. Mass extinctions. Overpopulation.
As I write this, Dr. Morrison and nine advertising students are in Alaska studying climate change. They’re learning how to find the stories in the science—stories that most of us would never see, and not because they aren’t compelling. On the contrary, they’re beyond compelling, the stuff of nightmares without end. The stories are there all right, but they’re mute and colorless and shapeless, entombed beneath a mountain range of data. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Data can do many things. It can prove theorems, send rockets to the stars and cure diseases of every stripe. What it can’t do is light a fire under the collective ass of society. Data can’t do that, but stories and ideas can.