By Meriem Cherif
Every night, my brothers and I fought to sit in front of the TV, hurrying to plop ourselves on the carpet before 8 pm hit. Our eyes shined as we waited in anticipation for the latest episode of our favorite show, Arthur. My friends on the playground talked about the latest Disney show, but I only knew the ones on PBS Kids, my favorite being about a third-grade aardvark with glasses. Although I yearned to watch Wizards of Waverly Place and A.N.T Farm like my peers, Arthur helped me grow up learning about diverse characters, which became invaluable in shaping my childhood.
In one episode, Arthur befriends a boy named Carl Gould, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The episode explains the behavior of children on the Autism-Spectrum in elementary-schooler language, and includes a segment about a real girl and her experience with Asperger’s. Dismantling the misconceptions that prevent children from befriending those who behave differently from them, the show provided much needed representation for neurodivergent children. As an elementary schooler, the show instilled in me an understanding of neurodiversity that stifled the ignorance I previously held.
More broadly, Arthur included characters who I never saw on other shows; Marina, a rabbit whose blindness did not stop her from playing fiercely in soccer; Buster, a young boy who grew up with divorced parents; and Brain, a smart student who celebrated Kwanzaa with his family.
Best of all, my brothers and I could relate to experiences we thought only we shared thanks to Arthur. During the Muslim month of Ramadan, my older and brother and I would fast, abstaining from eating and drinking in the day. To our amazement, Francine, a Jewish character, did the same in an episode about Yom Kippur. Her struggles and triumphs directly paralleled mine, which helped me feel less alone as one of the few Muslim students at my elementary school. In a different episode, a young boy named Cheikh teaches other characters about Africa and all the diversity it offers. He sings “In My Africa,” listing every one of the 54 countries and their notable qualities. That was the first time I heard my country, Algeria, mentioned on any show I had watched before. My brother and I turned to look at each other, jaws on the floor in shock—we couldn’t believe it! Right after, we breathlessly ran to our parents and grandparents to share what we heard on TV. It didn’t take long before we would parade around the house and belt out the lyrics, singing a little louder when we got to Algeria.
Often, kid’s TV is interpreted as the extinguisher of healthy development in children—Arthur disputes this belief. The show depicts messages of tolerance and respect, promoting the right values during the impressionable years of childhood. Despite the differing opinions about cartoons and their impact on youth, I know one thing for sure: I would not be the person I am today if not for the show about the third-grade aardvark.