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‘Sesame Street’ still on the cultural case and the side of angels with a COVID-19 special on CNN | COMMENTARY

This image is from a “Sesame Street” and CNN town hall aimed at helping kids and families understand the nationwide protests on racial injustice.
This image is from a “Sesame Street” and CNN town hall aimed at helping kids and families understand the nationwide protests on racial injustice. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO)

I have often said no television program has done more to change our culture for the better than “Sesame Street.”

Teaching numbers and ABCs to preschoolers, especially underprivileged ones, would be enough to warrant praise. But by offering young children an incredibly appealing model of multiculturalism at a time when America was still a deeply racist country in the 1960s, it accomplished nothing short of a cultural revolution across the years in changing hearts and minds.

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And it is still on the case doing great cultural work, like the special airing at 10 a.m. Saturday on CNN, “The ABCs of COVID-19: A Town Hall for Families.” It is hosted by CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, anchor Erica Hill and Big Bird and friends.

With the COVID-19 shutdowns grinding on, kids are watching more TV than ever. Some parents think that is a bad thing. But this is one show that could help your child become a smarter and more compassionate citizen by watching. It could also help ease some anxieties your child might be having about the lifestyle changes the pandemic has forced.

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One segment CNN has been previewing shows Elmo and his dad, Louie, talking about food and clothing drives and why there is such a need to help less fortunate children. Elmo asks why someone would have to drive to get food: “Can’t they just go into the kitchen” and get some? In a typical “Elmo Doesn’t Understand” colloquy, his dad explains what a food drive is and why there is such a need to help. Elmo promises that he and his friends will happily pitch in.

Elmo and his dad had a similarly illuminating conversation about social protests in a “Sesame Street” CNN special in June dealing with racism and the social justice protests taking place in cities across the country.

Saturday’s show will also feature a segment with Dr. Gupta, Ms. Hill and Super Grover explaining vaccines and what the arrival of them means in terms of COVID-19. Super Grover calls the vaccine a “little super hero boost to your body.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be on hand as well to answer kids questions about the vaccine and staying healthy during the winter and holiday season.

Dr. Gupta seems to be on-screen every time I turn on my TV. Friday morning he was shown in live coverage receiving the vaccine in an effort to encourage others to get the injections once they are available to them. He is doing a great public service during this horrible time.

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Yes, television can teach and be a force for good.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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