Sesame Street has always dealt with social realities with a frank and sympathetic voice, from folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird, to Jesse Jackson’s impassioned “I am Somebody” speech (seriously, that one’s a kick right in the old working-class ovaries). A few days ago the beloved children’s institution released an online toolkit for educators and families to help children deal with having a parent who is incarcerated.
The American Prison Industrial Complex (which is becoming quite a cash cow for a select few 1%ers) holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, though we only make up 5% of the world’s population. We jail more people than any other country in the world. One out of 28 children in America have a parent in prison, and it goes without saying that it’s both traumatic and difficult for a child to understand.
It would seem that helping a child deal with that sort of trauma would be a completely unobjectionable project, but Meredith Jessup at Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, seems to think Sesame Street failed by not explicitly portraying law-breakers as wrong-doers.
As Liz reported yesterday, PBS’ “Sesame Street” is moving on from ABCs and 123s to offer its young audience bigger life lessons, including coping strategies for when mom and/or dad winds up in the slammer.
At the show’s site, “tool kits” offer tips for caregivers, including explaining the concept of incarceration in a kid-friendly way. I was particularly struck by this one:
“When explaining where an incarcerated parent is, you can say, “Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grownups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law.”
Is it me or does this make it seem like jail time is par for the course?
It’s nice that Sesame Street has stepped forward to try and help kids left behind by parents serving time. Being removed from a parent can be seriously traumatic for kids and lend itself to developmental problems of their own. These are kids who need support.
That said, however, I’ve watched each of the videos produced by Sesame Workshop for the campaign. It strikes me that there’s no real advice offered for teaching kids lessons in right vs. wrong; there’s no guide for driving conversations about what crime has been committed and/or how mommy or daddy could have acted differently. Instead, the focus seems to be on alleviating the stigma attached to having a parent in prison.
Which would be absolutely terrible, wouldn’t it?
It’s essential to be supportive of innocent kids caught in these terrible situations, but I think it’s just as important to make sure they have the tools needed to avoid the same fate as their parents — a moral education and established expectations of responsibility. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing this kids any great service.
Oh, for sure. Discussing a complex and incredibly unjust legal system that disproportionately jails black, Latino, and/or poor men is totally appropriate for an eight-year-old. Destigmatizing incarceration would simply make the child feel better about themselves and their family, and we can’t possibly have that, now can we? We should really be pulling children aside and calmly explain to them that their Daddy is a terrible person because he got caught with a baggie of weed.
Congratulations, Meredith Jessup, you are officially the worst person in the world (at least for this morning).