Schoolhouse Rock!: Saturday Morning Schooling We Didn't Hate

By Rebeka Knott
1/28/97.Painted production cell of 'I'm just a Bill' from the America Rock series. (Getty Images)

Schoolhouse Rock!, the Saturday-morning cartoon series of educational shorts, is one of the most successful stealth missions of all time.

For youngsters in the '70s and early '80s, Saturday morning was the end zone of the week. Cartoons, after five consecutive days of schooling, were a reward. No thinking was necessary, certainly no memorizing or learning of rules and facts. No, watching Saturday-morning cartoons was the opposite of school.

Somehow, dozens of short lessons about history and grammar were placed in the commercial breaks of those sacred cartoons and in a way that kids didn't even mind. These clips were produced with quality animation and absurdly catchy music and lyrics, and kids -- who above all just wanted a break from learning stuff -- learned stuff. Think about it -- can you remember, specifically, what cartoons you watched on Saturday mornings? But when you hear "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill" or "Conjunction junction, what's your function" -- the memories come back, vividly. 

Aired on Saturday mornings, Schoolhouse Rock! was the brilliant idea of David McCall of the McCaffrey & McCall advertising agency. McCall dreamed it up after noticing that his son was struggling in school; more specifically with memorizing the dreaded, "times table." He also realized that his son had no problem memorizing the words to his favorite songs, so he came up with the clever idea of using music as a teaching tool.