Scars of the 90’s: It’s Educational!


In the 90’s one could justify just about anything in entertainment by claiming that it was educational.

It really didn’t matter if the educational aspect was so ancillary to the show as to be negligible- if it could even remotely purport to teach us something we plopped down (or were plopped down) in front of the TV to done get us a eja-meh-cay-shun.

Fortunately, there was absolutely no gap in subject matter, as our TVs taught us:

Geography (Carmen Sandiego, Head of the Class)

Math (Square One)

Literature (Wishbone)

Reading/Writing (Reading Rainbow, [bonus: Geordi LaForge starring as Levar Burton] Ghost Writer)

Science (Beakman’s World, Bill Nye the Science Guy)

Ethics/Puppets/Fashion (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

Religion (Veggie Tales, all the bible games for NES and PC. Onesimus: A Quest for Freedom, anyone? Pure awesome. Yeeeaaahhh.)

Yes sir, we were on the verge of a veritable breakthrough in education.

Except it didn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, all the shows and video games I mentioned were amazing.

I mean, how can you not like a cute dog play-acting the protagonists from the world’s greatest literature?

Or a disembodied English major finding scattered letters to solve mysteries?

Or a man in a giant rat suit doing science experiments?

Or a career criminal teaching you geography?

What? Throwing random facts at children in an unsystematic way within a 21 minute time slot sandwiched between pure entertainment didn’t educate us? Next you’ll be saying that repeating 1 or 2 words in the midst of an exciting exploration with a sidekick monkey and a talking map is not going to teach kids Spanish!

Enough of your LIES!

Even in school we were exposed to edu-tainment. I think it was experimental, and I don’t remember it lasting very long. Granted, this was on the cusp of us all getting computers at home and- finally, after Al Gore made it possible- the information superhighway where we had a world full of information at our fingertips, at least until the 100 hours ran out for that month, 99 of which were obviously slated for AOL chat rooms.

Edu-tainment in the 90’s, despite the paucity of its academic value, was quite creative. Consider Square One, which had to take the most boring and arbitrary subject (math) and craft a program that would keep us entertained for 27 minutes. (No commercials on PBS!) They had animations, CGI, quick game shows, magic, music videos, live action- it was awesome. Mathnet, which was meant to be like Dragnet except with mathematicians, was inimitable.

Despite contributing to our short attention spans and keeping us inside even when we should have been outside, they completely succeeded. We didn’t simply suffer through these programs- we looked forward to them. On PBS there was a 2-3 hour time span every afternoon full of wonderful programming that added nothing to our cognitive development but kept us entertained the entire time.

The thing is- as kids we absolutely KNEW that we weren’t getting any educational value out of this stuff. We thought that we were simply playing our parents by getting them to let us watch another half hour of TV.

In all actuality they probably realized this and relished that we would willingly shut up and sit in one place for an extra half hour or more so they didn’t have to deal with us. It was sort of like school went for an extra hour.



    • Sweet! I played quite a bit of Jill of the Jungle too. Commander Keen, Duke Nukem, and all those great Apogee DOS games. Awesome.

      This past weekend I downloaded some of those old ROMs and relived some of my early teenage years- glorious.

      • Oh man, I logged days of time into Commander Keen. We used to have Duke Nukem LAN parties. Those were fun times. Lugging around 50lb computers so that you could do something social with them.

        Ever play any old Sierra RPGS? Kings Quest? Robin Hood? Gabriel Knight?

  • The black and white independent comics (which came first) were pretty darned violent! They got toned down a bit after kids started reading them, but they were a lot more like Usagi Yojimbo than a funny animals comic.

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