A former student of mine tweeted today about what she sees as the oddity of ZIP codes that begin with a zero. (She’s from Out West, with little reason to mail things to New England.) I replied to her that it was clear she didn’t go to elementary school in the 1970s. As someone who did fall into that category, I saw this on a regular basis:
This, in turn, inspired me to dive into the rabbit hole of the educational TV of my youth. For example, I remember watching the first episode of Sesame Street when it debuted in Nashville in 1969.
But while Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (on PBS’s forerunner, National Educational Television) are easy enough to recall, my junk drawer of a memory has other, more obscure Kid TV content. For example, I have distinct memories of sitting in my classroom at Hermitage Elementary, watching short films that seemed to me at the time to fall under the heading of what we now call “character education.” Really, though, my chief memory of those films was the title. The show was called Ripples, and they showed up on WDCN, on channel 2. (Later, the PBS station exchanged frequencies with the ABC affiliate, moving to channel 8, and the station is now identified as WNPT.) Episodes dealt with situations like getting lost or playing in the neighborhood, and emphasized “helping children process their encounters with everyday people and places, with an emphasis on play and an understanding of human feelings. ” (You can watch sample episodes here.) In any case, I’m sure it made a useful break for Mrs. Stanley or Ms. Porter from time to time.
In early grades, music instruction was frequently TV-based as well. Specifically, a woman named Fran Powell hosted shows with titles like Music Land and Jellybean Junction, where she would play guitar (including occasionally a tenor guitar) and teach basic ideas about melody and rhythm. I can’t find any episodes of Music Land (although I do remember the chorus to the theme song), but here’s an example of some shows she did in the later 70s and 80s.
Also in the mid-70s, I discovered a show called Vegetable Soup. The show was long on animation and puppetry, and was meant to be a paean to diversity, but I mainly watched it for a science fiction segment called “Outerscope 1” about a group of kids who build a spaceship out of junk and soar into space — or at least pretend they do.
The show was also where I first learned about guacamole, thanks to recurring character Woody the Spoon (voiced by Bette Midler.) Here’s Woody telling us about cooking rice.
We also got our share of movies, generally of the mental and physical hygiene persuasion. Each year, it seemed, we would see films on the evils of drug abuse. For example:
By the time I reached high school, I had moved to Kentucky and the school gradually moved from film projectors to videotapes on television. In particular, a social studies teacher at Boone County ran National Geographic vids at least once a week. It got to the point that my friend and bandmate Joe (who was in the period before mine) would greet me by singing the familiar theme: “Buh da da DAAAH da, buh da da DAAAH da da, da da da (boom boom).” Eventually, we wrote lyrics:
“A bunch of pygmies, a bunch of pygmies live in the trees (boom boom).
They’re really pygmies, they’re not just normal folks on their knees!”
And so on.
I wasn’t expecting to take this particular trip down Memory Lane, but like Proust and his madeleines, it’s odd the things that can launch the mind backwards.