Alert
Close

Take AARP’s Smart Driver course and you could save money on your car insurance. Learn more

Highlights

Open
AARP Real Possibilities

 

FREE FUN!

AARP Games - Play Now!

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

AARP Auto Buying Program

MOST POPULAR

Viewed

1068: The Year That Rocked Our World

1968: Interview With Joan Ganz Cooney

Joan Ganz Cooney, 78, is founder of the Children’s Television Workshop and “mom” of Sesame Street; she transformed her own altruism and a lifelong curiosity into Big Bird’s brownstone neighborhood, a stealth classroom where millions of kids have learned everything—from math to manners—from the likes of Kermit, Oscar, Cookie Monster, Fozzie, and all their wisecracking (and wise) pals.

Q: Did you start out wanting to change the world?

A: Well, I was brought up Catholic, and even as a little girl I was affected by the idea of giving back—doing something for the needy, something of significance. I was very influenced by a Maryknoll priest, Father James Keller, who founded a movement called the Christophers. Their motto was: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” He had a radio show, a newsletter, a newspaper column, later on a TV show—he knew the power of communication. And he said that idealists should be going into the media, otherwise the media would be unidealistic.

Q: How did you get from that to educational television for children?

A: My degree was in education, but the idea of being a teacher lost out to being a reporter. I worked at a newspaper for a while, then went to New York and worked in PR at RCA and NBC, and at The United States Steel Hour, a drama series. There was a court fight going over channel 13—educational broadcasting wanted it to go from a commercial station to a public education station, which was still a very new concept; when they won, I asked if I could their do publicity. The head of the station said no, but they needed producers. I don’t know why, exactly, but I said, “Oh, I can do that!” and then I started calling everybody I knew. We did documentaries—one on Head Start, another on poverty. I was struck by the plight of the kids, and what poverty was doing to them…. The question for me was, could TV actually teach? I knew it could, because I knew 3-year-olds who sang beer commercials!

Q: Are you still as emotionally connected to Sesame Street as you were 40 years ago?

A: Maybe even more so now. Watching it with my granddaughter when she was nine months old was the first time I understood it in the most personal way. She would sit on my lap, rapt, watching the characters and laughing. I actually watched her learn to count, it was amazing. I had seen the research that said it was happening, I’d been in the classrooms, but to see it in this child’s face, this child that I loved, was magical.

Return to main article >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Downloadable mobile app from AARP® Roadside Assistance from Allstate.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can earn 3% cash back on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.