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Harvard Professors Help Plan T. V. Show for Kids


"Don't jive a judge by jamming a June bug" ends a "commercial"-"brought to you by the letter J"-featured in a recent episode of educational television's innovative new children's show. "Sesame Street."

Two years of research and discussion-in which twelve Harvard professors took an active part-preceded the show's debut on November 10. One of those professors, Gerald S. Lesser, Charles W. Bigelow Professor of Education and Developmental Psychology, chairs the advisory board of the Children's Television Workshop (CTW), which produces the show.

Professors Sheldon H. White and Jeanne S. Chall participate on a regular basis in the actual production of the show. White reads and reviews all of the shows' scripts in advance; Mrs. Chall looks over the storyboards of all the shows' animated sequences before they are produced.

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Now entering its fourth week of national exposure, "Sesame Street" promises to become one of the most popular children's programs on TV. In the show's first week on New York's educational channel, it attracted a viewing audience four times greater than the channel ever had before, Lesser said.

Critical response to the program has also been highly enthusiastic.

Shown daily on national educational television, the show employs fast action cartoons and real-life actors to teach pre-school age children-primarily urban children-about numbers and letters. The show also seeks to contribute to the child's social development, Lesser said.


The show is modeled to an extent on the style of television commercials and shows like "Laugh-In," according to Jerome Kagan, professor of Developmental Psychology, because children seem to respond well to this "fast, rapid-change" style.

Lesser said he was pleased by the success which the program had had so far but stressed that its "ultimate success" would depend on "whether kids learn from it or not."

Two research groups, one within CTW and one within the EducationalTesting Service, are watching the effect the show is having on children. CTW's Research Advisory Sub-Committee, of which Lesser and Kagan are members, is in contact with both of these groups.

The concept of the program was formulated in seminars in which individuals involved with children in various ways participated. In addition to academic personnel on a university level, puppeteers, pre-school teachers, children's book authors, and animators took part in these discussions.

Lesser and Kagan stressed that these seminar groups began by discussing just what the objective of an educational television program, aimed at urban children, should be and in what ways the television medium could be used to achieve this objective. It was out of these discussions that the particular format of "Sesame Street" evolved.


About 30 or 40 of the program's advisors come from the academic world, Lesser said. The show is "not a Harvard-dominated enterprise," he said, explaining that because it was convenient for him to draw on Harvard when he was looking for people with expertise in various fields, many of the show's advisors do come from Harvard.

In addition to Lesser, Kagan, Mrs. Chall, and Sheldon White, six members of the Ed School Faculty-professors Lawrence Kohlberg. Chester M. Pierce, Courtney B, Cazden, Burton L. White, Marion I Walter, and Leon Eisenberg-helped to work out the shape of "Sesame Street."

Joining with them in this were Roger Brown, professor of Social Psychology and chairman of the Social Relations department, and Keith Conners, assistant professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital.

All of these have also participated to some extent in the post-planning stages of the "Sesame Street" project.

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