Henson Calls for Teaching through TV

Lisa M. Henson ’82-’83, the chief executive officer of the Jim Henson Company and eldest daughter of the famous entertainment company’s namesake, spoke at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Tuesday night to advocate for the increased use of multimedia educational tools in preschools.

“Whether you believe that children should watch television or not, it’s inarguable that children do watch television,” Henson said.

Hence it is important, Henson said, to create meaningful and educational television that accommodates the pervasiveness of new media technologies.

Henson gave the example of her father, Jim Henson, who, with his wife, founded the Jim Henson Company. The company went on in 1969 to create “Sesame Street,” the longest running children’s show in television history. Lisa Henson explained that her father “was very inspired by the challenge of educating kids through the medium of television.”

Television at the time was an innovative concept, Henson said, and although puppetry had been used on television before, the puppets were always seen as part of a puppet stage.

Henson continued by discussing the company’s current educational shows, such as “Dinosaur Train” and “Sid the Science Kid,” both of which are computer animated and geared to teach preschoolers about science.

“In working with these shows we have become particularly aware of the need for preschoolers and their caregivers to be conscious of scientific literacy,” Henson said. “We feel that the goal has a lot of relevance and urgency today.”

Although this type of educational television will always have its critics, Henson said her company’s “research indicates that what we do is working. Children that watch our show have a strong ability to recall content.”

“I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good,” Henson recalled her father saying, “that we can shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way.”

Henson graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a degree in Folklore and Mythology. As a student, she served as the first female president of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine. Henson’s presentation was part of the Askwith Forum, an ongoing lecture series hosted by the Ed School.

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