If I were to walk into a room of parents of college-aged kids and sing “Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here” or “Interplanet Janet, She’s a Galaxy Girl,”— I can pretty much guarantee a response. The phenomenon is known as Schoolhouse Rock! spanned several decades, and we were there when it all began. To me and many others in my generation, it defined our late 70s/early 80’s childhood.
For us, TV was very different than for our kids, who have hundreds of channels and streaming — instant access to anything they want to watch. Most of us lived in a house where there was one TV (color if you were lucky) that got four channels, and on Saturday mornings, those channels were ours — Scooby Doo, Super Friends (“Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!”), Jabber Jaw, Speed Racer, and Richie Rich were favorites. But to me, the best part was the three-and-a-half minute “intermissions” that would include math, science, history, and grammar lessons — Schoolhouse Rock!
The songs of Schoolhouse Rock are my generation’s playlist
The songs of these cartoon shorts were on our playlist. I still know all the lyrics to this day. It’s how my generation learned to recite the preamble to the Constitution (We the people…, To form a more perfect union…), can explain how a bill gets passed (I’m Just a Bill…here on Capitol Hill), and knows that without a doubt, a noun is a person, place, or thing (“Well every person that you know, And every place that you can go, And anything that you can show, You know they’re nouns…”).
In the early seventies, David McCall, owner of a New York advertising agency, created the animated series to help his young son learn his multiplication tables (“17 twice is 34, ele-men-tary”). For many of us, Schoolhouse Rock! was just what we needed at just the right time. I mean, sure we learned some things in our other weekend TV viewing—that love always prevails (The Love Boat), that the best summer outfit included Daisy Dukes (Dukes of Hazzard), and not to piss off David Banner (The Incredible Hulk).
And, as history would have it, we would complete our TV education as the teens who would be the original viewers of MTV — an entirely different learning experience altogether — thank you, Madonna, Wham, and Duran Duran. But it is Schoolhouse Rock! where we learned the important stuff. (“It’s great to learn cause knowledge is power.”)
I tried to introduce my children to Schoolhouse Rock
I tried to introduce my children to the glory of Schoolhouse Rock! when they were in elementary school. I bought a VSH tape (again, I date myself), …but the simplicity of the animation couldn’t compete with Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc.
High School Government classes brought another opportunity to revisit Schoolhouse Rock!— this time to explain the legislative process. I found “I’m Just a Bill” online (now we are in familiar territory) to show my teens. They memorized the preamble with the help of that cartoon, which has definitely been something they have used to their advantage on the first day of history classes or sometimes as extra credit on a test.
I personally like to throw it out there at social gatherings. Once again, if in a crowd my age, there is usually more than one who will “sing” along with me. See what fun I am at parties?
Today’s kids are more sophisticated, for sure. They are watching Stranger Things and reruns of Friends. For their history lessons, they have Hamilton at their fingertips for streaming. Funny, in rewatching “No More Kings” (taxation without representation), I would find it hard to believe that the actor playing Hamilton’s King George III, didn’t make some character choices based on that Schoolhouse Rock cartoon king! Rewatch it.
I bet you’ll agree. Take some time to watch them all. They are catchy and smart. They are fun and informative. They are our childhood.
Our kids will never understand the television of our generation. And surely, by the time they have kids, the childhood viewing that is familiar to them will also be, at the very least, very different from today.
There is also the fact that on Saturday mornings, today’s kids are on the soccer field or at one of the dozen activities that they engage in every weekend. We, on the other hand, always knew that Saturday mornings were for laying on our couch in our pajamas singing Lolly, Lolly, Lolly. And then, maybe around noon…we’d get dressed…and head outside.
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