For some, Morgan Freeman is best known
for his compelling performances in such films as Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank
Redemption. But for kids who grew up in the 1970s, it is difficult not to first
associate Freeman with the children's educational program, The Electric Company.
The program, created by the Children's Television Workshop was aimed at seven
to ten-year olds who were having difficulty learning to read. Along with fellow
cast members Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby and others, Freeman presented a successful
mix of vaudeville, parody and satire in a rapidly paced, hip, yet educational
program. According to child researcher Edward Palmer, "The Electric Company
posed a particular challenge, because it had to entice children who were experiencing
reading failure to return again and again voluntarily, to a screen filled with
words." One technique employed by the creators of the show involved the telling
of a joke, but having the punchline available only in writing on the screen. Another
technique included difficult words displayed on screen that would self destruct,
the audience was told "in five seconds" thus provoking the reader to
quickly identify challenging vocabulary terms.
Freeman and all who worked on The Electric Company have a right to be proud of their achievements. In a test conducted by Princeton University it was determined that after six months, viewers of the series had made significantly greater progress in reading than nonviewers. The series became the most used educational television program in history, used by more schools in the United States than any other program, and Sidney Marland, then Commissioner of the U. S. Office of Education described it, along with Sesame Street as "The best educational investment ever made in the country."
The Electric Company, in the able hands of earnest and sophisticated talents like Morgan Freeman, proved that television, as a nonthreatening and nonpunitive instructor, can have a lasting and important influence on young learners.
Palmer, Edward L. Television and America's Children: A Crisis of Neglect. New York, Oxfor: Oxford University press, 1988.
Davis, Jeffrey. Children's Television: 1947-1990, Jefferson North Carolina and London, McFarland a
Copyright © 2002, Kevin Shortsleeve
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