I suppose it was our own fault to be limited by the whims of PBS...
Due to longstanding policy set down by the missus, we do not get cable. At times, I’ve advocated for cable TV, but in the end I’m too cheap myself.
When it comes to children’s programming, all we have is PBS Kids at our disposal. The Saturday cartoons of our youth no longer exist. There are a few Saturday cartoons, but usually it doesn’t occur to anyone to turn it on.
PBS has been fine for the most part. From Caillou to Sesame Street to Clifford the Big Red Dog, the programming has been fun for our kids and mostly harmless. They’re all a little annoying to adults, but one can deal with it. (Except for Barney the Satanic Dinosaur.)
One day came a new program: SUPER WHY. Within minutes of the first episode I began to loath it and it became my daughter’s favorite thing in the whole world.
“SUPER WHY is an interactive reading adventure!
We begin each 24-minute reading adventure in Storybrook Village, a magical 3-D world hidden behind the bookshelves in a children's library. The Storybrook Village is the home of your child's favorite fairytale characters. Immediately, you'll meet the four best friends who anchor each episode: Red, from Little Red Riding Hood; Pig from The Three Little Pigs, Princess from The Princess and The Pea, and Whyatt, the curious younger brother of Jack from Jack and The Beanstalk who discovers he has the power to fly inside books to find answers to his questions. Each of these characters is re-imagined as an everyday kid, not unlike your child's own friends: Red rides roller blades; Pig drives a trike; Princess loves tea parties and dress-up; and Whyatt is the group's natural leader.
Even the description makes one want to vomit.
These programs that feature a group of kids always have white alpha male as the leader.
Each episode starts with a preschool relatable problem.
The solution is to look for the answer in a fairy tale book, in which they physically enter the story. Oh, and they all have inconsequential and uninteresting special powers.
The Super Readers can solve any obstacle with their literacy powers!
They solve the problem of the story’s characters and therefore one of the Super Readers’ problems by changing the text and meaning of these old fairytales.
Hip Hip Hurray! The Super Readers save the day!
Victorious, they leave the story book and do a Hip Hip Hurray dance. It's the lamest dance ever shown on a screen.
I don’t have a problem with adapting literature for new purposes. But this show does it in a way that completely eviscerates the original point, the original lesson of the story.
For example, the episode that taught my daughter to lie.
In this episode, the boy who cried wolf has problem that no one believes that he sees the wolf even though he is telling the truth. This mirrors Whyatt’s problem that his parents don’t believe him when he said that his baby sister said her first word to Whyatt.
In the story, the boy does see the wolf but the wolf hides each time the townspeople come. The problem is solved when the frustrated townspeople confront the boy with their disbelief and frustration and the boy tells them with all sincerity that he is really telling the truth, “Trust me!” he pleads. Everybody then says, that they DO believe him. The Super Readers change the text so that the nice wolf appears and explains his absence because he was shy. The wolf gets to meet all the townspeople.
Whyatt solves his problem back at home by insisting that his mom and dad “trust” him that he’s telling the truth. His parents say OK, and immediately his sister repeats her word for everybody.
At the time, I shook my head in annoyance of their perversion of the story.
The next day I asked my four year old to go to the bathroom and wash her hands before dinner. She insisted she already did. I knew better. I insisted again. She righteously proclaimed, “I already did, daddy! TRUST ME.”
What powerful words! “TRUST ME!” We immediately had a calm but stern discussion on the difference between telling the truth and just saying you’re telling the truth. The discussion had to be repeated a few times over the following weeks.
Of course that was the lesson she would take! The damn show taught her that adults will listen to you and believe you if you just say “Trust Me” in a particular way. They did this at the expense of the other side of the lesson, that of credibility and the importance of truth telling.
Even preschoolers can be taught that credibility is something that can be lost and earned and that telling the truth is important. The original story of the boy who cried wolf is a bloody, but otherwise age-appropriate lesson for young kids. This show messed that up and merely taught my preschooler that talking in a sincere manner is all that is needed.* It taught my daughter to lie.
Plus, their animation stinks.
* Is it possible that Glenn Beck watched this episode and took it to heart?