Monday, October 20, 2003


OK, television is/was good for something after all.

Speaking from my vast experience of a whopping five days as a substitute teacher in good old Carbon County School District No. 2, I see one glaring deficit in the way this next generation of children is being raised.

OK, generation check here. Do you know the preamble of the United States Constitution by heart, but only if you're allowed to hum it first? Does your ass shake in the chair whenever you count by fives? Are the Louisiana Purchase and the phrase "elbow room" inextricably linked in your mind?

Have you been to Conjunction Junction, and do you know its function?

(Hookin' up words and phrases and clauses)

Sure, it's a deeply weird way of knowing things, but honestly, how much worse is it than when George Orwell was made to remember the phrase "A black negress was my aunt: there's her house behind the barn" as a mnemonic device for recalling, in chronological order, the names of all of the battles in the War of the Roses?

At least our way has rhythm.

And it's freakin' easy.

And if one has a modicum of self-control, our way can be employed fairly surreptitiously, a whisper, a hiss, a hum-along in the head... Who needs to know that through one's head is running Let's go up to the mountains/OR down to the sea/You should always say thank you/OR at least say pleeeeeease

So imagine my empathetic agony as I'm filling in for the (also, mysteriously, Gen X) guy who is trying to teach a small passel of fourth graders how to do long division, and these poor kids are actually struggling to remember what three times seven is without the benefit of bell-bottomed cartoon groovesters shuckin' and jivin' and saying "21"!

My friends and relatives out there in DVD-infested civilization tell me that all of Schoolhouse Rock is available on that most cherished of new entertainment formats, and even in my college days it was a rare afternoon indeed when one could pass by the ivy-covered dorms at Beaudacious Bard College without hearing the faint but compelling strains of "Hey Little Twelve-Toes" or "Interplanet Janet" or "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here" to say nothing of perhaps the one SR that everyone knows (thanks to the Simpsons) "I'm Just a Bill" blasting from some pothead's overpriced stereo system – the songs, minus the cartoons, have been available on good old cassette and CD since at least the late 1980s.

So there's really no excuse for the fact that my little niece-analog, who is a deeply and intuitively intelligent little girl, still has to use her fingers to figure out what the product of five times eight is.

I mean, she could at least be shaking her booty instead.

Really, you readers of mine out there with kids, or grandkids, or niece-analogues or whatever, do them a favor that will save us all a lot of agony down the road. Kiddie crap-buying season is nearly here (indeed, does it ever really leave us?). At least get the "Multiplication Rock" cassette for their walkmen or something, if you can't just invest in the whole DVD library of Schoolhouse Rock.

Oh, and good lord, how the hell are these kids ever going to read properly without Sesame Street and the Electric Company?

But that's maybe a topic for another column.