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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Experience is a PBS documentary series that's committed to educating the public about events in American history. To that end, episodes are commonly used as supplemental teaching tools in schools and other educational settings. Parents should also know that some installments deal with mature subject matter and include strong language and graphic descriptions of events and behavior, making the show better suited to older tweens and teens than young children.
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What's the story?
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE -- a historical documentary series committed to telling stories about people and events that have changed the nation -- has the distinction of being television's longest-running and most-watched history program. The series examines a variety of subjects and disciplines, from technological developments and scientific breakthroughs to great American politicians and artists and their achievements. Each installment considers various perspectives on events that have had national implications, including in-vitro fertilization, yellow fever, Civil Rights, the Gold Rush, the private and public challenges of past leaders, and the progress of various forms of art and popular culture. While the topics of the individual documentaries vary, they share many thematic similarities. Each installment looks at the political, social, economic, and, often, ethical implications of the groundbreaking achievements of Americans who embraced unconventional ways of thinking.
Is it any good?
The series doesn't shy away from the flip side of these pioneering successes, making sure to cover the real costs associated with challenging preconceived notions of "how things should be." Many of the profiled innovators faced often-overwhelming difficulties as their work went from being socially resisted and politically opposed to becoming part of the tapestry of American daily life. A winner of every major broadcast award, American Experience continues the tradition of public broadcasting by working to increase public understanding of American history. To help fulfill that goal, the show often profiles innovators --including women and racial and ethnic minorities -- whose work paved the way for others who ended up getting sole credit for landmark contributions. But the series' most powerful message may be that a person's greatest contribution to America isn't actually changing it, but rather bravely taking the initiative to attempt to do so.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which historical figures highlighted on American Experience they admire and why. What makes them admirable? What challenges did they face as pioneers in their field?
Families can also talk about important innovators who might be "left out" of history. Who gets credit for inventing new technology and creating other significant historical events? Why? How can we find out more about them?
What did you learn from the show that you didn't know before? Parents and kids interested in learning more about the topics covered by the show can plan a trip to the library or do some Internet research.
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