Schoolhouse Rock: Revisit a Collection of Nostalgia-Inducing Educational Videos

Some­times a tune lives in your head and you hum it now and again with­out any rec­ol­lec­tion of where it orig­i­nal­ly came from. Chances are, if you grew up in the Unit­ed States watch­ing Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toons, that tune came from School­house Rock.

Like so many of its biggest fans, School­house Rock is now offi­cial­ly in its 40s. This year marks the 40th anniver­sary of the pilot seg­ment, Three is a Mag­ic Num­ber, whose melody and lyrics ooze the type of hip­pie Sun­shine Fam­i­ly whole­some­ness so abun­dant in ‘70s children’s pro­gram­ming.

Man and a woman had a lit­tle baby,

Yes they did.

They had three in the fam­i­ly.

And that’s a mag­ic num­ber

Fol­low that up with School­house Rock’s win­ning for­mu­la: sim­ple, hum­ma­ble tunes mixed with math fact lyrics.

3–6‑9, 12–15-18, 21–24-27, 30.
3–6‑9, 12–15-18, 21–24-27, 30.

School­house Rock start­ed out as an adver­tis­ing ven­ture on ABC, dreamed up by an exec­u­tive whose son was strug­gling to mem­o­rize his mul­ti­pli­ca­tion tables. But it grew into the most pop­u­lar inter­sti­tial pro­gram­ming (short vignettes shown between TV seg­ments) in mod­ern tele­vi­sion.

One of the most mem­o­rable melodies is Blos­som Dearie’s sweet and melan­choly Fig­ure Eight, broad­cast in Feb­ru­ary, 1973. This one was cov­ered by Eliot Smith in a decid­ed­ly less upbeat ver­sion.

With­out a doubt these three-minute ani­ma­tions (by Loonie Tunes ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones) are some of the best mod­ern edu­ca­tion­al videos around. Whose social stud­ies teacher didn’t show this tune­ful expla­na­tion of the leg­isla­tive process dur­ing class?

And this one about the Con­sti­tu­tion, well I have to admit that it still chokes me up.

The man behind the vast major­i­ty of the music is Bob Dor­ough, a pianist who worked with Miles Davis and Allen Gins­berg before becom­ing the voice and main com­pos­er for School­house Rock.

The series took on near­ly every sub­ject, from mul­ti­pli­ca­tion and gram­mar to sci­ence and Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. Today’s edu­ca­tion­al soft­ware devel­op­ers would kill to make gram­mar as fun as Con­junc­tion Junc­tion and Lol­ly, Lol­ly, Lol­ly Get Your Adverbs Here.  The pro­duc­ers didn’t shy away from more weighty issues either. Take a lis­ten to this lit­tle dit­ty on the theme of Amer­i­can ter­ri­to­r­i­al expan­sion.

The series took a break dur­ing the 1980s but picked up again in the mid-’90s with Mon­ey Rock. In 2009 came Earth Rock. Both fea­tured a more gloom-and-doom feel than the inspir­ing tone of the ear­li­er School­house Rock iter­a­tions.

Some­times the orig­i­nal real­ly is the best.

You can pur­chase the com­plete set of School­house Rock videos on Ama­zon. We’ve also added a link to this post in our new col­lec­tion: 200 Free Kids Edu­ca­tion­al Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Web­sites & More

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Read more of her work at and 

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Comments (5)
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  • Chris P. says:

    We have one of those mini­vans with a built in DVD play­er and, bar­ring trips greater than an hour, the only things played on the DVD play­er are the School­house Rock DVDs or They Might Be Giants ter­rif­ic DVD Here Comes Sci­ence (The videos on the DVD are all avail­able free) — Exam­ple: Meet the ele­ments —

    It has been great for the kids and us — we get stuff we all like to lis­ten to and its edu­ca­tion­al too.

  • gena says:

    Thanks for men­tion­ing Bob Dor­ough, how­ev­er not also cred­it­ing the genius, Dave Frish­berg, is a fail­ure as he much to do with the cre­ation of these songs.

  • Actu­al­ly, although Dave Frish­berg wrote he clas­sic “I’m Just a Bill,” Lynn Ahrens wrote almost as many of the songs as Bob Dor­ough, includ­ing “The Pre­am­ble.”

  • SDR says:

    Thank you!!!!

  • George Newall says:

    Actu­al­ly, none of the films were pro­duced by
    Chuck Jones. Most of them were done by Phil Kim­mel­man and Kim & Gif­ford. Chuck Jones’s con­tri­bu­tion was telling Michael Eis­ner to buy the series after wit­ness­ing part of our orig­i­nal pre­sen­ta­tion at ABC. Dave McCal­l’s orig­i­nal idea was nev­er meant for adver­tis­ing, it was to be an edu­ca­tion­al phono­graph record.

    Inci­den­tal­ly, Bob Dor­ough turned nine­ty this year.And he’s still on the road here in the States
    and in Japan and Europe. He’s remark­able!

    And thanks for your kind words.

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