Sesame Street — home of Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Elmo — rarely incites controversy. But on Sunday the website of the Public Broadcasting Corporation's endlessly influential children's education show uploaded a curious feature called "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration." The point of the package, which includes printable brochures, streaming videos, eBooks, and apps for iPhone and Android, is explained thusly:
The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through.
The package has so far elicited pretty polarized reactions. CBS News, which unveiled the effort, praise the attempt to confront the very real issue of children with loved ones in jail: "Sesame Street, in its simple, familiar way, is trying to break [incarceration] down, using imaginary characters to explore — and explain — what was once unimaginable, but now more and more common." (Indeed, the U.S. incarceration rate is the world's highest.) The libertarian magazine Reason, however, saw things a bit differently: "Congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail."
Maybe the most awkward part of "Little Children, Big Challenges," however, is the feature's main sponsor, BAE Systems. The British contractor, whose U.S. subsidiary is one of the largest suppliers to the Department of Defense, depends — like many other defense contractors — on the low-overhead labor of prisoners incarcerated at for-profit facilities. That said, BAE has a large philanthropic arm, and perhaps "Little Children, Big Challenges" was one of the more obvious projects to support.
To get a feel for project, check out the first video, titled "What is Incarceration?", on Sesame Street's website.