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Whatever happened to SchoolHouse Rock?

Updated on February 3, 2012


Growing up, back in the days when my mind hungrily absorbed information (as opposed to the way it now pings off my overtaxed brain like hail on a windowpane!) there were certain concepts I retained that still resonate strongly to this day. Certain people, certain memories, certain songs. Every once in awhile, we experience things that bring us back to points in time that make us smile and reflect.

So, not long ago I was talking with a friend who referenced the song from SchoolHouse Rock on How a Bill Becomes A Law. Suddenly, I remembered the cartoon figures from the early 70s singing to the groovy tunes, telling the story. But not before Conjunction Junction repeated itself in my head. Wow. Songs I hadn't consciously ran across my mental radar in decades!

In the early 1970s, as an outcropping of the youth rebellion of the 60s, came a series of catchy, fun episodes that bridged childhood learning styles - acknowledging and embracing the fact that not everyone learns from lecture and reading alone. The animated educational TV shows began as an idea for commercial advertising by a man named David McCall, who noticed his son had trouble learning multiplication tables, but could easily memorize song lyrics from his favorite rock songs. So, integrating those learning styles, he collaborated with songwriter Bob Dorough, lyricist and animator Tom Yohe and created the song "Three is a Magic Number". They pitched the idea to Michael Eisner (later Disney CEO) who was then VP of ABC's Children's Programming Division. Eisner brought in Chuck Jones from Warner Bros. and voila! Thirty-seven episodes were recorded between 1972 and 1980.

The SchoolHouse Rock team reunited in 1987 to produce a VHS video production, then did so again a few times in the 1990s. In 2002, for the 30th anniversary DVD, Tom Yohe, Jr. the son of the original animator of the same name, took over and new songs were created. In 2009, SchoolHouse Rock Earth was released, containing songs with environmental themes.

Subjects covered by the SHR team included multiplication, grammar, science, money, computers, the environment and American government. SchoolHouse Rock Live!, a stage version of the show, debuted in Chicago's Cabaret Voltaire in August 1993 and played for eight months to sold-out theater houses, then continued intermittently until 1997.

Conjunction Junction!

SchoolHouse Rock today

Thinking SHR was a distant memory for me, I researched and found it is not so for our culture.  Just this week (November 2009), SHR was in the news when MSNBC News Anchor Rachel Maddow incorrectly stated there was no Preamble to the Constitution, and for her penance, the station played the SHR version of the song here. References abound in the media - with some suggesting Obama use more visuals (and presumably sing a little) a la SHR in his speeches about health care reform. I can feel the jingle coming on ...

Like most things in our generation, there is naturally a SHR fan club, and parodies by MAD TV (Public School House Rock - "I Kan Reed!", "Substoot Teecher", and Dysfunction Junction!)

The new SchoolHouse Rock Earth is a Disney production, so I'm now expecting plush Conductor and Earth dolls, limited edition DVDs, and a new schoolhouse ride at Disneyland where you ride in a car shaped like a Bill and travel through the legislature like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

So, it would appear that SHR hasn't died any more than other cultural phenomena of the 1970s. Just when we thought we were done with all of the "Returns" of Gilligan's Island, Superman, Batman, Incredible Hulk, etc., they are now producing "The Cat in the Hat", "Where the Wild Things Are", and "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs"!

I can see it now. In the theaters to watch the latest blockbuster sequel of Die Hard - Die Already!, and up comes the preview for SHR - the Movie. Will Smith's son as the kid with the bill. Dr. Phil as the Conductor. The Jonas Brothers singing a souped-up Conjunction Junction, with new "moves". The possibilities are limitless!

Until then, enjoy this little trip down memory lane ...

How A Bill Becomes A Law

We the People ....


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    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 8 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      That would certainly be an interesting hub and it could very well lead to that. My parents when we grew up had a business and we had nannies for a while goodness it was the worse experience I had. Needless to say all of us turned out just fine, but the Nanny experience was one we will never forget. :)

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      Hi AEvans - thanks for checking in! Yes, it certainly brings out the child in us, though I'm not certain the "inner child" in the clinical sense. But hey, who knows - maybe there's something connecting Conjuction Junction with childhood abandonment ... I'll have to research that! ;-)

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 8 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Well this certainly brings back some long ago memories I to get stuck with Conjunction, junction what's your function? on occassion I believe these childhood memories bring out the inner child in all of us. :)

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      I found my kids are generally not interested in the music or shows I found fun and exciting when I was younger. Generational stuff. They're now into SpongeBob, iCarly, Suite Life, etc. I think there's a natural "ugh" when they think it's from our time! The exceptions, of course, being Sound of Music, Willy Wonka, etc ... ;-)

      Thanks for checking in, Jim!

    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 8 years ago from ma

      I loved the School House Rock songs. They were played a lot in elementary school. I got the DVD a few years back but, the kids never seemed very interested in it. I think I should try again since they are a little older now. 9 and 7. It is great to hear new songs. Thanks.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      Thanks Dad - and you probably thought I was just zoning out those Saturday mornings ... uh, what was I saying?

      MTG - thanks for the comment; I do find learning styles fascinating!

    • Midtown Girl profile image

      Midtown Girl 8 years ago from Right where I want to be!

      The vivid recollection you often display in your writing amazes me! The focus these shows had on learning styles is a more serious topic, but this hub brings back so many fun thoughts of that time period!

      As always, thanks for the walk down memory lane…

    • Jackwms profile image

      Jackwms 8 years ago

      Well, I went to school before television, so did not have the chance to learn in this way. But you did. We had to learn all these things by rote. It's hard to imagine someone in the news saying the Constitution didn't have a preamble. We had to memorize all these things in order to graduate from the 8th grade.

      I got a chuckle out of your suggestion that Obama might use a song or jingle in his health care promotion. Good thought.

      Anyway, this is a very good, thought provoking hub.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      I believe the show - along with Sesame Street, Electric Company, etc. bridged barriers for kids who learn better audiologically, and probably helped pave the way for Phonics (which I assume is a good thing?) Thanks for the comment, Pete!

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      I'm a bit older. My kids watched Schoolhouse Rock. You are right about Conjunction Junction; I have never forgotten that tune. I also liked the "Make a Wish" show done by Tom Chapin, Harry's brother. It talked about kids wishing to be in a certain occupation and giving information about that job. It was well done.