What Can Technologists Learn from Sesame Street? with Dr. Rosemarie Truglio

June 22, 2023

What happens when creators consider what lifelong human development looks like in terms of the tools we make? And what philosophies from Sesame Street can inform how to steward the power of AI and social media to influence minds in thoughtful, humane directions?

When the first episode of Sesame Street aired on PBS in 1969, it was unlike anything that had been on television before - a collaboration between educators, child psychologists, comedy writers and puppeteers - all working together to do something that had never been done before: create educational content for children on television. 

Fast-forward to the present: could we switch gears to reprogram today’s digital tools to humanely educate the next generation? 

That’s the question Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin explore with Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, the Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content for the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street.


Dr. Rosemarie Truglio is the Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content for the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street. Besides developing curriculum for the TV show, she also oversees content across platforms including books, home videos, toys, and theme parks. She’s also an author. Her most recent book is Ready for School! A Parent’s Guide to Playful Learning for Children Ages 2 to 5. She’s been with The Sesame Workshop for more than 25 years.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Sesame Street defies media norms with its unique approach to childhood development and psychology in the context of television. When comedy writers, musicians, and puppeteers join forces with experts in developmental psychology and other fields, it’s possible to create meaningful educational content for children.
  • When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, television was a “vast wasteland.” Joan Ganz Cooney, Sesame Street founder and visionary, observed children learning through commercial jingles. That inspired a curriculum-driven model of creating impactful and relevant content for children and the adults in their lives, and it’s still in use today.
  • It is possible to create normative content for children around the world, regardless of culture or geography. Sesame Street is grounded in the learning sciences, which keeps the show focused on what is normative worldwide. Math, science, empathy, and understanding emotions are universal concepts. There's more universality than there is specificity on Sesame Street, and content is localized so that the characters and settings resonate through the appropriate cultural lens.
  • We can apply Sesame Street’s design values to technologies like AI and social media. The care and thought that go into Sesame Street starkly contrasts with the reckless deployment of AI in products children access, like Snap’s My AI chatbot. We can leverage Sesame Workshop’s hard-won lessons about responsible developmental media and education so that we can co-create a media environment in which children - and all of society - can thrive.

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