| by Kevin Shortsleeve
In the early 1970s, wrapped in blankets and crunching bowls
of Trix and Captain Crunch, children all over America gathered, sleepy-eyed
on Saturday morning to witness the weekly delights offered by the
likes of the Pink Panther, the Road Runner, and Speed Racer. As
children surfed among the networks looking for their favorite
cartoons in late 1972, a new and unusually informative cartoon swung
into the TV room.
"Conjunction Junction - What's your function?
Hooking up phrases and clauses that balance - like
Out of the Frying pan AND into the fire,
He cut loose the sandbags BUT the balloon wouldn't go any higher,
Lets go up to the mountains OR down to the seas,
You should always say thank you OR at least say please.
Conjunction Junction - What's your function?"
This was Schoolhouse Rock - one of the most inventive and
original educational offerings ever to be zapped through network
satellites. It was the brainchild of advertising executive, David
McCall. Hiking with his son in the Rocky Mountains, McCall noted
that while his son had trouble memorizing his multiplication tables,
he did not seem to have any difficulty memorizing the lyrics of songs
by the Rolling Stones.
Back in New York, McCall hired songwriters like Bob Dorough,
and Lynn Ahrens and animator Phil Kimmelman, - he filmed a pilot
episode and offered the
program to ABC.
Nearly thirty years later, Schoolhouse Rock is still on
Saturday mornings, and characters like Conjunction Junction,
Interplanet Janet, that Hero Zero and that hopeful and patient Bill -
are known to millions. One of the secrets of the success of
Schoolhouse Rock is undoubtedly the respect the songwriters had for a
child's intellect. These cartoons were not in any way condescending.
Note the lyrics of Three is a Magic Number:
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number
The past the present and the future
Faith and hope and charity
The heart and the brain and the body
Schoolhouse Rock challenged the child, even including
sophisticated concepts like infinity - and all within the framework
of expert melodies. Lynn Ahrens even managed to rhyme the Preamble
to the Constitution. One middle school teacher reported that when
asked on an exam to write the Preamble, several students quietly
hummed the melody from Ahren's song as they completed the answer
without a problem.
Now that's cool.
Engstrom, Erika, "SchoolHouse Rock: Cartoons as Education," Journal of
Popular Culture, Volume 23, No. 3, Fall 1995.
The Best of Schoolhouse Rock, Rhino Records and ABC Television, CD, 1998.
Copyright © 2002 by Kevin Shortsleeve
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