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On Schoolhouse Rock’s 40th Anniversary, A Canadian Reflects

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I was born in Toronto, Canada and raised in an Israeli household where Hebrew was spoken and international events were discussed almost exclusively. When I moved to Ohio in the early 90s, I was definitely a fish out of water (or perhaps syrup out of its jar?). Despite my voracious efforts to learn everything I could about America, I was always behind in class on American history, politics and, in general, how things worked in the States.  

Then everything changed.

One day, my teacher stuck a VHS into an old VCR at the front of the class. When she pushed play Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill” blared to life. I watched in a trance-like state. “This,” I thought, “is something that is completely and uniquely American.”

Armed with what I felt was immensely important knowledge, I went around to my classmates eagerly singing the song to show off that I knew exactly how a law was made in the United States (well, sort of, they never did get around to that filibuster song…). As you can imagine, my first grade classmates didn’t exactly share my same enthusiasm for legislating (or my singing)—but my journey toward truly understanding the basic tenants of American citizenship began, right there, in that classroom. All thanks to Schoolhouse Rock.

Jazz pianist and vocalist Bob Dorough brought the series to life after being approached in 1971 by a New York advertising executive whose sons could not do basic multiplication. The executive asked Dorough to put the multiplication tables to music. The result was “3 is a Magic Number”, which debuted in 1973 on Schoolhouse Rock’s first episode.

Now, 40 years later, Schoolhouse Rock endures. For this once out of place Canadian and countless others:

“Dorough, who is 89 and still performs, said he gets requests from adults to sing some of the bits because they grew up on them -- often times recognizing his voice,” reported CNN in a recent retrospective about the show. "Schoolhouse Rock premiered on Jan. 13, 1973, and ran on ABC from 1973-1985. It came back in the 1990s for five more years. More than 30 million people have now watched some of them on YouTube, showing that Dorough's work still resonates.”

It certainly does. In honor of Schoolhouse Rock’s 40th birthday, I give you what, for many, is the beginning of their journey to understanding how our system of government works:

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Dana Grinshpan is the Research Manager for the Government Business Council (GBC), the research division of Government Executive, where she specializes in primary research development and survey instrument creation. Prior to joining GBC, she worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), assisting in the research and writing of work on South Asian regional cooperation. She has a Master of Arts in international security and political economics from the University of Chicago and graduated magna cum laude from Ohio State University where she holds a B.A. in international studies with a minor in Arabic.

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