The animated Schoolhouse Rock! shorts that ABC ran between Saturday morning cartoons from 1973 through 1985 (and again in the 1990s) formed many children’s understanding of civics and US history. The Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons, however, were better at celebrating the accomplishments of the United States than presenting varied perspectives or addressing difficult historical issues. So what lessons can this program offer to twenty-first century historians seeking to offer children a more inclusive and nuanced story of the past? This article uses oral histories, promotional materials, and corporate records to examine the process of making these wildly popular models of public history. It also hypothesizes how a Schoolhouse Rock! for the 2020s could bridge scholarly and public discussions about the relationship between civics and history, while simultaneously creating diverse and critical historical narratives that are (hopefully) as engaging and memorable to young consumers as the original series was for their parents.
Schoolhouse Rock! for a New Generation: What Should It Look Like?
Paul Ringel is an associate professor of history at High Point University. He is the author of Commercializing Childhood: Children’s Magazines, Urban Gentility, and the Ideal of the Child Consumer in the United States, 1823–1918 (2015) and numerous articles about children’s literature and American children’s consumer cultures, and was historical advisor for The Time Warp Trio television program (2004–06). His current work includes The William Penn Project, a public history project on a segregated black high school in High Point, North Carolina.
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Paul Ringel; Schoolhouse Rock! for a New Generation: What Should It Look Like?. The Public Historian 1 February 2021; 43 (1): 82–101. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2021.43.1.82
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