The Report that Started It All

by Catherine Jhee
December 6, 2019

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is thrilled to present a newly reformatted version of Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney’s still-relevant 1966 report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Potential Uses of Television for Preschool Education made a convincing case for the power of television to prepare children, particularly in underserved communities, to succeed in kindergarten—and led directly to the program that revolutionized children’s media.

We have reformatted the original photocopied report because we know today’s researchers, educators, and media creators will find value in Mrs. Cooney’s incisive work: so much of her findings hold true, even in a greatly expanded media landscape. The publication features new forewords from Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, with letters of introduction by Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York; Jeffrey Dunn, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop; and Michael Preston and Michael Levine, the current and former Executive Directors of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, October 2019 (Photo: Gil Vaknin)

It has become a part of Sesame Street lore that the idea for the show was born at a dinner party during which friends mused about the power of television to captivate young children, and wondered how it might be used to help them learn to read. Joan Ganz Cooney was a documentary producer at New York’s Channel 13 when Lloyd Morrisett, then Vice President at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, offered to fund a three-month exploratory study. She traveled the country interviewing early learning experts and prominent children’s television producers and filmmakers; the resulting report became the blueprint for the longest-running children’s television show in U.S. history.

The Potential Uses of Television for Preschool Education persuaded Carnegie Corporation to partly finance the project, with Mrs. Cooney and Dr. Morrisett raising remaining funds from the U.S. Office of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Ford Foundation. In 1968, the Children’s Television Workshop (later renamed Sesame Workshop) was born, and Sesame Street, featuring a groundbreaking multicultural cast and Jim Henson’s Muppets, made its debut on November 10, 1969. The first preschool program to integrate education and entertainment, it has been broadcast daily since 1969 in the U.S. and been seen by hundreds of millions of children in more than 150 countries around the world.

The issues raised in The Potential Uses of Television for Preschool Education continue to drive our efforts at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, the research and innovation lab Mrs. Cooney founded in 2007. We are dedicated to pursuing the 21st century equivalent of her original question, “How can emerging media help children learn?” We hope that this report will inspire a new generation to harness the power of media to support the learning and development of all children, and to address the issues of opportunity and equity that remain so profound today.

We are grateful for the leadership and support of Mrs. Cooney and Dr. Morrisett, and congratulate them on an amazing 50 years. We are so inspired by your work, and humbled by your generosity and vision. Thank you.

 

The report is available as a free PDF at joanganzcooneycenter.org/1966report.