TV Things to Be Thankful For: Educating while Entertaining

Thanksgiving may be over, but the long, winding path of thankfulness continues on, making plenty of loops around Television.

It’s easy to forget that learning is fun, or, at least, that’s when learning is the most effective. We learn best when we are presented ideas in creative and exciting ways, thereby making them easy to retain. Take elementary school, for instance. What are the kinds of lessons we remember the most? Science projects using candy to make molecule diagrams; U.S History trivia contests with mystery prizes for the winner; field trips to interactive museums that doubled as playgrounds. The teachers we loved the best were ones who understood that there are times when education and entertainment can go hand in hand, and there are plenty of shows on TV that feel the same way.

After watching hours of mindless entertainment, it’s vindicating when we learn some valuable knowledge or obscure trivia from it. Hey, maybe the media bigwigs know that, occasionally throwing us a bone by providing shows that give us random facts about beavers or our digestive tracts to convince us we haven’t completely wasted all our time, but, if it leads to shows that legitimately entertain as well as use their mind-captivating powers to properly teach us a little, I think I’m ok with that.

I’m not talking about shows that are solely made to educate kids, like say Dora the Explorer. Shows like that may have entertained us greatly while we were young, but, as our minds matured, so did our tastes. It takes more to captivate our minds now, and purely educational shows tend to get subconsciously filtered out of both our minds and Pop Culture. Nowadays, we seek more shows that entertain more than they educate, but, ironically, it’s those same shows that have the most potential to educate.

Animaniacs has inane slapstick, wacky imagery, as well as the pun-iest dialogue imaginable, and it’s also one of the cleverest cartoons in existence. A love letter to the classic cartoon era of Warner Bros that still captures the spirit of the 90’s, it’s a personal favorite of mine that still cracks me up to this day. There are plenty of episodes that are entertaining for the sake of being entertaining, but one of the coolest things about Animaiacs is that it often uses its humor and creativity to explore educational topics, teaching kids on its own zany terms. There are episodes that feature the Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, meeting historical figures like Beethoven, Picasso, and Albert Einstein and pestering them until something historic happens, like painting the Sistine Chapel for Michelangelo (only to replace God and Adam in The Creation of Adam with E.T. and Elliot). There are episodes that parody famous plays like Les Miserables and H.M.S Pinafore, and it has catchy songs about the states and their capitals, the bones in our body, and the names of our presidents, which I’m 80% certain helped me ace a history test in middle school. Animaniacs encourages you to see the fun in just about any topic, ensuring a smile on your face whenever it comes up in real life.

If Animaniacs is a clever show, then Phineas and Ferb is a smart show, with fun plots not necessarily about a topic in particular but always decorated with a variety of facts and trivia that make you feel smarter as you watch them. How many other cartoons take passing moments to discuss palindromes, the Spartans, and Reverse Engineering or have episodes featuring aglets or the Gordian knot? Thanks to the adventures of Perry the Platypus, I’ve learned a lot about platypuses (Platypii? Platypeople?). Did you know they basically sweat milk? I sure didn’t. Plus, according to some of the show’s songs, a platypus is also a monotreme (mammal that lays eggs), and its Latin name is Ornithorhynchus anatinus. It’s almost like everyone on this show likes to read an encyclopedia in their spare time.

Perry the Platypus

Even shows about epic quests and Good vs Evil take time to educate us as they enrapture us. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show created in the West but heavily inspired by the East. Those watching it are able to learn more about Asian cultures, philosophies, and art as they drink in the sights and sounds. Sometimes even the characters learn while we do. In one instance, Sokka has a run in with Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry, and gets into Avatar’s equivalent of a rap battle with a Haiku master. Ok, so maybe it’s not how you or I might learn about poetry in school, but you can’t question its effectiveness.

Shows like these understand that, just as we should never stop being thankful, we should aim to never stop learning as well. Learning means we’re growing, and growing means we’re making the most out of what’s been given to us. IF we keep our eyes and ears open, we can learn something from anything, and use that for our own benefit as well as others’. Moreover, as our good friend TV has shown us, the learning process goes a lot smoother when we can find joy in doing it, so have fun and learn lots!

 

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