During the last few weeks, the major cable children's programming channels (Nickelodeon, Disney, MSNBC) have been hyping the build up to Earth Day like never before. Nickelodeon continues to try to influence young minds of mush by urging them to fight CO2 monsters through their "Big Green Help" program. Disney is also fully on board the environmental bandwagon with programs like "Handy Mandy Goes Green" (not to be confused with the very special "Handy Mandy Gets A Green Card" episode).
The networks would say that it's all part of their efforts at "educational" programming. But it's interesting to note that what passes for educational programming on children's television today almost exclusively involves the environment or diversity. The only time I can recall seeing any attempts to educate children on history is during Black History Month. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's a whole lot of history that's being left out if that's all you include.
There's also little or nothing that celebrates the United States or is patriotic in any way. The only time you usually can even catch a glimpse of the American flag is if one happens to be in the background of one of Nickelodeon's hagiographic "reports" on President Obama. As my wife noted just the other day, the focus is always on the world rather than America. After all, we're just one country among many, right?
It's easy for parents to get frustrated by this onslaught of liberal thought and lack of American exceptionalism on children's television. But fortunately there is an answer. An answer that you might enjoy watching just as much as your kids do.
Yes, Schoolhouse Rock. The Easter Bunny dropped off the DVD at our house this year and it's been getting pretty heavy play ever since.
Those of you in my demographic cohort know what Schoolhouse Rock is. For those who aren't, here's the History of Schoolhouse Rock:
Every Saturday morning between 1973 and 1985, a classroom of imagination defying enormity was assembled on ABC, run by a small cadre of renegade Madison Avenue ad men. Class sessions were short but intense-squeezed between episodes of Scooby Doo and LaffOlympics and Underoos met the dress code. No one assigned homework, no one slapped your knuckles with a yardstick, no one beat you up for your milk money. The institution of learning was called Schoolhouse Rock, and if you can recite the Preamble of the Constitution by rote and know the function of a conjunction, you probably attended faithfully.
Watching the DVD definitely brings back fond memories of getting hepped up on sugary cereal and watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Our mom usually wouldn't buy us sugary cereal, but that didn't stop us from piling it on. You put enough sugar on and anything can taste good, even shredded wheat.
Some of my favorite School House Rock grammar shorts are Interjections!, Unpack Your Adjectives, and Conjunction Junction. They hold up today just as well as they did back in the day.
But the ones that I really loved then and still enjoy today are from the America Rock series:
By 1976, a patriotic fervor had gripped the nation. Kids were hoarding bicentennial quarters and riding around on red, white and blue Huffys. Schoolhouse Rock responded with segments about American history, which they produced under the banner America Rock, and which ABC, for reasons mysterious, called History Rock. The lessons became more ambitious, now addressing such topics as Colonial military prowess ("The Shot Heard 'Round the World"), the concept of Manifest Destiny ("Elbow Room"), and women's rights ("Sufferin' Till Suffage").
These includes classics such as The Preamble, Great American Melting Pot, and I'm Just A Bill. There is simply nothing even close to these on television today. You think it might be helpful if more Americans understood at least some basics about our legislative process, our history of welcoming AND assimilating immigrants, and the Constitution?
Not that there aren't a few errors that I've noticed here and there. For example this line in Mother Necessity about inventors:
When Henry Ford cranked up his first automo,
Maybe that's where President Obama got the idea that Ford invented the car.
What really stands out though is just how out and out patriotic these shorts are, how absent they are of PC scolding, and how unafraid they are to give voice to values once considered quite uncontroversial in America. The ending from another one of my favs, The Shot Heard 'Round The World:
God Bless America, Let Freedom Ring!
Six words I can guarantee you won't hear on Nickelodeon any time soon.
Another exuberant celebration of America and its history is found in Fireworks:
And on the Fourth of July they signed it
And fifty-six names underlined it,
And now to honor those first thirteen states,
We turn the sky into a birthday cake.
They got it done (Oh yes they did!)
The Declaration, uh-huh-huh,
The Declaration of Independence (Oh yeah!)
In 1776 (Right on!)
The Continental Congress said that we were free (We're free!)
Said we had the right of life and liberty,
...And the pursuit of happiness!
That's what I want my kids learning. Not how to fight CO2 Monsters.
One Rock that I don't remember seeing as a youth really sticks out. Read the lyrics to Elbow Room and try to imagine what would happen if such a lesson were shown on television today:
One thing you will discover
When you get next to one another
Is everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.
It's nice when you're kinda cozy, but
Not when you're tangled nose
to nosey, oh,
Everybody needs some elbow, needs
a little elbow room.
That's how it was in the early days
of the U.S.A.,
The people kept coming to settle though
The east was the only place there
was to go.
The President was Thomas Jefferson
He made a deal with Napoleon.
How'd you like to sell a mile or two, (or three, or a hundred or a thousand?)
And so, in 1803 the Louisiana Territory was sold to us
Without a fuss
And gave us lots of elbow room,
Oh, elbow room, elbow room,
Got to, got to get us some elbow room.
It's the West or bust,
In God we trust.
There's a new land out there...
Lewis and Clark volunteered to go,
Good-bye, good luck, wear your overcoat!
They prepared for good times and for bad (and for bad),
They hired Sacajawea to be their guide.
She led them all across the countryside.
Reached the coast
And found the most
Elbow room we've ever had.
The way was opened up for folks with bravery.
There were plenty of fights
To win land rights,
But the West was meant to be;
It was our Manifest Destiny!
Can you say that?
The trappers, traders, and the peddlers,
The politicians and the settlers,
They got there by any way they could (any way they could).
The Gold Rush trampled down the wilderness,
The railroads spread across from East to West,
And soon the rest was opened up for--opened up for good.
We trampled down the wilderness, built railroads across the country, and opened up the land. And it was GOOD!
And now we jet from East to West.
Good-bye New York, hello L.A.,
But it took those early folks to open up the way.
Now we've got a lot of room to be
Growing from sea to shining sea.
Guess that we have got our elbow room (elbow room)
But if there should ever come a time
When we're crowded up together, I'm
Sure we'll find some elbow room...up on the moon!
Oh, elbow room, elbow room.
Got to, got to get us some elbow room.
It's the moon or bust,
In God we trust.
There's a new land up there!
Remember when building, growing, and expanding were all considered part of the American Dream? When we considered it our right to have space? When we would go wherever we had to--even the moon--in order to find that space? And we would make that journey with trust in God? Now, we're afraid of "suburban sprawl," strive for "sustainable development," and worry that too much travel might increase our carbon footprint and anger Gaia.
Instead of having your kids subject to yet another day of environmental indoctrination on Nickelodeon and Disney or the creeping multiculturalism of PBS, pop in the "School House Rock" DVD and return to a time when American children were taught not to apologize for our country, but to celebrate it.