When it comes to scholastic studies, most kids loathe having to memorize things. When it comes to song lyrics, however, most kids can master them after only hearing the words a handful of times. With this in mind, Schoolhouse Rock debuted in 1972, catching children off-guard with their infectious little tunes that taught important lessons about history, science and grammar – without most kids ever realizing what was going on. How well did it work? Well, decades later, many of us can still remember the lyrics to some of our favorite Schoolhouse Rock segments as if it were yesterday. Let’s take a look back at these perpetually-popular educational shorts.
Schoolhouse Rock, created by David McCall, was originally intended as a record that kids could listen to at home. Upon hearing some of the songs, artist Tom Yohe suggested to McCall that they might consider animating the material. McCall loved the idea, created a demo, and pitched it to Michael Eisner, who was in charge of children’s programming at ABC at the time. He, in turn, got General Foods to sponsor the segments, and for the next 26 years, Schoolhouse Rock was a staple of Saturday mornings.
Multiplication Rock debuted in 1972, helping tykes with their memorization through songs such as “Zero, My Hero,” “3 Is a Magic Number” and “Figure 8.” The next year, they introduced Grammar Rock, which contained one of the best-remembered of the segments, “Conjunction Junction” (what’s your function…), along with the less-remembered “Verbs, That’s What’s Happening” and “Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here.”
In 1974, with the nation’s Bicentennial looming on the horizon, it was time to give American history some love, via American Rock. “No More Kings” told the story of the colonization of the country, and the extremely popular “I’m Just a Bill” that explained exactly how laws get passed. A few years later, in 1977, Science Rock would debut, with an emphasis on simple physics, while the related Body Rock focused on the workings of the human body.
At its peak, Schoolhouse Rock was shown four times on Saturday mornings and twice on Sundays for a total of 350 broadcasts during the 1974-75 season. By the end of the decade, the landmark program had won two Emmy awards (1975-6, 1979-80) and was broadcast 300 times per season. Since its inception, Schoolhouse Rock has been the model for educational shows on commercial television. And by managing to entertain just as much as educate, the segments succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
Today, the world is filled with adults who might not remember what year the Spanish-American War was fought, but they can immediately express through song what a conjunction is. If you are one of these people who can credit part of your education to Schoolhouse Rock, tell us about it in our comments section, as we remember these beloved segments that will hopefully continue to be passed along to future generations for decades to come.