In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney and her colleagues charted new territory by harnessing the power of television to educate underserved preschoolers. Their efforts led to the creation of Sesame Street, now the single largest informal educator in the world, reaching some 100 million children and families in more than 140 countries.
Four decades after the landmark study that led to the creation of Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop established a new center in 2007 to carry out Mrs. Cooney’s vision in a rapidly changing world. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is focusing new resources on the challenges children face today, asking the 21st century equivalent of her original question, “How can emerging media help children learn?”
Joan Ganz Cooney (b. November 30, 1929) began her career as a reporter in her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. From 1954 to 1962 she worked as a publicist for NBC in New York and for the U.S. Steel Hour, a highly acclaimed CBS drama series. Mrs. Cooney eventually produced documentaries at WNET/Channel 13, winning her first Emmy for Poverty, Anti-Poverty, and the Poor, a documentary on the U.S. government’s War on Poverty program.
In 1966, with the support of Lloyd Morrisett, then a vice president at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Mrs. Cooney produced a study entitled The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education, which provided the rationale for using television to teach disadvantaged children basic skills through programs that were both educational and entertaining. The report convinced the corporation to partly finance such a project, and Mrs. Cooney and Dr. Morrisett were able to raise the rest of the $8 million through the U.S. Office of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ford Foundation. In 1968, the Children’s Television Workshop was born (it was renamed Sesame Workshop in 2000).
Sesame Street debuted a year later and had an immediate and revolutionary impact on children’s educational television. It was the first preschool program to integrate education and entertainment as well as feature a multicultural cast. It has been broadcast daily since 1969 in the U.S. on more than 300 Public Broadcasting Service stations and has been seen by hundreds of millions of children in more than 140 foreign countries. Indigenous co-productions reflecting local languages, customs and educational needs have since been produced for audiences in the Arab world, Israel, India, Indonesia, Bosnia, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, France, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Russia, China, South Africa, Egypt, the Philippines, Canada, Spain, and Latin America.
More about Joan Ganz Cooney:
- Makers interview with Joan Ganz Cooney
- Television Academy Foundation’s interview with Joan Ganz Cooney (April 1998)
- More Television Academy Foundation interviews about Joan Ganz Cooney
- Oral history interview with Joan Ganz Cooney, Carnegie Corporation Project at Columbia University Libraries (1998)
- Check out Street Gang, by Michael Davis (published by Penguin Books, 2009)
- Read “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education” by Joan Ganz Cooney
- See the letter written by President Clinton to recognize the naming of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in her honor in December 2007.