By: Andrew Lister
Recently, one of our network's podcasts, Words of Geekdom, did an entire episode on educational television shows from our childhood. Even though it seems that the age of growing up with PBS may be in danger in our modern times, I look back with fond memories on some of my favorite programs. I would excitedly learn about geography and history while watching groups of sleuths seek out Carmen Sandiego. My love for reading was deepened by LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow.
More than any other show, however, I wanted nothing more than to wake up one morning and find a floating message telling me that I was the newest member of the Ghostwriter Team.
I really hope that I'm not alone in saying that Ghostwriter was one of my all time favorite shows growing up. It's a show that (thanks to IBe Ghostwriter) I've unabashedly gone back to even over the last few years to relive my childhood. Unlike many other shows that I watched during that time, it taught me some very important life lessons and made me look differently at the world around me.
So what is it exactly about Ghostwriter that I found and continue to find so appealing? Get out your casebook and write down the clues for yourself because Andy is on the case!
Clue 1: The Importance of Writing
For those of you that do not know, my day job is teaching English at the high school and college levels. I spend most of my time during the day, after school, before school, and weekends reading student writing and teaching ways they can improve their skills. The opening sponsor commercial from Nike tells the views each time to "Exercise your head" by either reading or writing, which sets the tone for the entirety of the series.
Ghostwriter is at its core a detective story, a sort of Sherlock Holmes Light, starring a group of middle school students that "check out clues and solve mysteries" with the help of a supernatural spirit named Ghostwriter. The only way to communicate with this friendly ghost is by writing to him. You can tell this is a show of the 90s rather than today when the young teens struggle to remember to write messages in order to communicate with Ghostwriter. I can only imagine how mundane the concept would be to today's youth, who sometimes balk at the thought of actually calling someone on the phone to speaking face-to-face.
Anyway, the show focuses on written communication between the team and Ghostwriter, who cannot express himself through speaking at all. This forces the crew to consider what they say before they write it out and learn the power that writing has in communicating with others. Writing can be powerful, which is shown in a number of key moments from the show: Double T teaching Rob about the importance of creative writing and communicating with his father, Alex and Gaby's father using writing to apologize for causing so much trouble for Lenni's dad (and destroying his instruments), and even saving the day when only writing could bring back Ghostwriter, who nearly faded from existence after a fight broke the team apart.
What I'm trying to say is that the show knew that writing was important, and it spent much of the show teaching young kids that good writing can help us express our feelings and help solve our problems. This is something I've dedicated my life to doing at work--aiding students in seeing that their own words can impact the world around them and help them understand and cope with the troubles in their own lives. I'm grateful Ghostwriter helped reinforce this message for me at a young age.
Clue 2: Lessons in Diversity
The Ghostwriter team consists of an ethnically-diverse cast of characters. Each one broke the negative stereotypes of their race, gender, and culture and gave the show's viewers a clearer understanding that there's more to America than its white, male citizens.
The first member of the team that we meet is Jamal Jenkins, an intelligent, cheerful African American. He's the heart and soul of the group, serving as the team's leader. Alongside of Jamal we have Lenni Frasier, a creative and independent female character; Alex Fernandez, a keen-minded, puzzle-solving Mexican-American; his strong-willed and eager sister Gaby; the Vietnamese-American Tina Nguyen, who always looks for the truth in every news story; and Rob Baker, a character not afraid to express himself creatively rather than through sports and masculinity.
As we get to know each team member, we see the struggles that they face not just as teens but because of their race and nationalities. For example, when Rob is harassed by a group of Latino gang members, who call him a dumb white boy, Jamal laments about how he's faced racial discrimination from people that have said "much worse" things. Tina's parents came to America from Vietnam to start a new life for their family, and Tina must navigate the world as the first American-born child of her family and keep to the cultural heritage of her mother and father. Both Alex and Gaby are expected to work in their parents' bodega everyday and help provide for their familia.
As a white child growing up, seeing such a diverse and realistic cast broadened my perspective of the world around me. Even more importantly, it served as a positive reinforcement to its non-white viewers that there were people like them out there that could make positive changes within their communities.
Clue 3: Teamwork & Intelligence Can Change the World
A lot of the shows I grew up watching focused on using physical might to solve your problems. Shows like He-Man, Transformers, and Ninja Turtles revolved around big battles and beating up the bad guys. While I love all of those shows, they didn't always send the most positive message to its youthful viewers. I can remember several times when I got in trouble for pretending to be Leonardo and throwing fake punches and kicks at my fellow classmates on the playground.
Ghostwriter wasn't about solving your problems with violence. It preached the importance of using your head and working together to come up with non-violent solutions.
The problems that the Ghostwriter Team faced centered around real life rather than mere fantasy. Throughout the series they dealt with cases involving theft, arson, gang violence, addiction, and kidnapping. Instead of swooping in with their fists, they gathered evidence and solved each case with the help of their floating, time-traveling Google search.
Above all else, the kids relied upon one another when times got tough. They didn't always get along, but the show taught the power of working together rather than going off and trying to face to world alone. It's a message that's still inspiring in a world that continues to become more and more insular.
I could go on and on about how much of an inspiration Ghostwriter was on my early life. Instead, I want to hear from you! What were some of the most influential shows of your childhood? How did they help shape you into the person you are today? Leave them below in the comments section! Oh, and when life gets you down, always remember...
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