How School House Rock Got it Right!

Here I come at the end of the week when all you’re thinking about are margaritas, am I right? Well, focus; most of my posts will be about two things anyway: the pretty and the engaging. Seriously. I know it’s not exactly the cool thing to say to a ~creative~ crowd, but I like pretty things and I often like things because they’re pretty. And if something interesting doesn’t happen in fifteen seconds, I move on. I got a short attention span like-

Now my first post subject, School House Rock (SHR), seems to be the perfect intersection of where pretty meets engaging.

I began my love affair with fonts during the grammar episodes of SHR.  Come on, don’t act like you don’t remember! Painted on the side of a boxcar was a conjunction… and young tikes the world over were asking the deeply profound question, “what’s your function?” They were like magic words, words that didn’t have to be ordinary. Words that made you look at them. From adjectives to adverbs, the block lettering transformed into whatever it needed to be.

Sometimes the words embodied what they were supposed to sound like or what they were supposed to look like, but they were always bold, clean, and fun. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the word ‘typography’ and I’m absolutely convinced I would’ve gotten to it sooner if they had covered it in an episode of SHR. But even now, as I’m hipped to cool sites like Da Font , I can still appreciate the uncomplicated, brightly colored stenciling of School House Rock and the love affair it gave me.

And what about the engaging part? Well, you know what else School House Rock got right? Tutorials! Who knew tutorials about verbs and multiplication could be so crafty and creative? Which leaves me wondering…as a design newbie, why do tutorials about creative software need be so bland?  I cannot tell you how many Photoshop and Final Cut demos I’ve sat through that have me pushing the next button just to keep moving.

And don’t say it was just about the catchy tunes with SHR because…ok, it wasn’t all about the catchy tunes. It was a mixture of clever animation, catchy tunes and fun storytelling. Now I’m not saying design tutorials are the proper format for all of that, but a great challenge for software users and teachers alike would be to make something remotely as dynamic as SHR.  Maybe it does exist, maybe I just haven’t heard of it. I know it’s Friday but if you’ve seen one or come up with one, please post a link and let me know.

And I’ll see you back here next Friday… bring the margaritas!

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24 Comments to “How School House Rock Got it Right!”

  • School House Rock was one of my favorite things growing up. I still remember the songs.

    • I’ve been known to bust out a refrain or two, here and there.

    • I have been known to bust out a refrain or two around the house.

  • I've often wondered, in these times that music composition and arrangement is easier than ever, why the SHR format has not been revived, or at least re-applied to other learning initiatives as you well suggest.

    Me and my kidz < 3 all of SHR (I gots the DVD!), but my top 3 faves have to be:

    • Oh, Alex! Rufus Sasparilla! Classic.

  • Yes! School House Rocks was one of my favs back then. But you make a pretty good point, such a show as that allowed the watcher to be drawn in and become engaged. Tutorials should also have the same approach, to present a level of creativity that draws one in and become engaged.

  • Unfortunately I haven't seen one. I still have love for School House Rock and the Electric Company. The strategies they used, worked. I also don't understand why they haven't been revisited. Honestly, I haven't seen anything that possibly comes close.

    • Me neither, which worries and saddens me.

  • Conjunction junction, what's your function?! Those were the days. Very well written :)

    • Thank you!

  • I still refer to School House Rock when I talk to my students about certain concepts. How a Bill Becomes a Law is a favorite of mine.

    • During the healtchare reform, I gotta admit…I may have checked in on that to help me understand…

  • I just watched that video up there with my 3 year old nephew…and do you know how many times he wanted to watch it? About 7 I think, and he would rewind it back to the start even before the video ended so he can watch it again hehe.

    But I do remember SHR when I'd watch my Saturday morning cartoons and I thought they were pretty cool (I must admit the catchy tunes partly helped catch my attention too).

    And if only Photoshop and FCP tutorials were like SHR, it probably would've been easier and faster to learn while going through design school :P

  • You are right. It's about time that people realize/admit that the same things that appealed to us as children could, and do, appeal to us as adults. It's not a matter of maturing and developing some sort of sick preference for the boring and bland. The brightness and lightness [and yes, catchiness] of SHR should expand into all venues of learning. I can't take another bulleted powerpoint slide in another sleep inducing board meeting. Where are the songs, the cartoon characters? I could learn about the bottom line just as easily as I learned about adverbs, if only the powers that be would invest real funding into keeping me interested and informed.

  • Everyone has now moved away from face to face meetings and is entering (or way in deep) the web-age. Our headquarters is in the middle of streamlining different processes and I sit through tutorials at least once or twice a week. They are boring and I can honestly say I have fallen asleep. With some singing and dancing, bubble letters and things popping out at me – I WOULD BE A-Ok! School House Rock is awesome and I think that tutorial developers can learn something!


  • I work at a library and School House Rock is still in heavy rotation. Which is interesting, considering how many educational programs are churned out each year. It's still pretty effective, I think my niece has referred to it more than once.

  • I was/am a huge fan of School House Rock. I still remember the one about a bill becoming law…

    • That is so funny, I had to recount that song as we were waiting for this whole heatlhcare thing to go through just so I could remember the steps :) See! Helping me even now!

  • BTW, I meant to ask you… How the heck do you know SHR?!? Weren't you born in like 1995 or something?

    • Lol! I'm older than I look Alex!

  • I think tutorials are designed to be boring!! It's a conspiracy I tell ya… On a serious note love School House Rock!

  • [...] with the format, layout and profile, but it really is quite magical. It’s blogging, simplified. As I wrote in my first post here, I like things that are pretty and brief, and I don’t know if it’s the nature of Tumblr itself [...]

  • My World Cultures (social studies) teacher showed this to us and we loved it. I got it stuck in my head for days… then when we had a test over Executive, Legislative, and Judicial… I aced it! It really helps!

    • Wow that's a great story!

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