Can Big Bird Fight Terrorism? Children’s Television and Globalized Multicultural Education


 Presenter (s) Naomi Moland, American University

“Can Big Bird Fight Terrorism? Children’s Television and Globalized Multicultural Education” examines how international versions of Sesame Street are working to build peace. There are more than 30 co-productions of Sesame Street, which are viewed in over 150 countries. This book focuses on the creation of Sesame Square, the Nigerian version, which is co-produced by Americans and Nigerians and funded by USAID. In addition to teaching preschool-level academic skills, Sesame Square seeks to promote peaceful coexistence—a daunting task in Nigeria, where escalating ethno-religious tensions and terrorism threaten to fracture the nation. To understand this complex initiative, the author spent a year in Nigeria, interviewing Sesame Square creators, observing production processes, and conducting episode analysis. Two key dilemmas emerged as the program’s creators designed episodes to promote peace. First, efforts to celebrate diversity sometimes inadvertently exacerbated intergroup stereotypes. Second, the violent and unjust “public curriculum” in Nigeria—that is, what children were learning from the society around them—threatened to undermine Sesame Square’s tolerance messages. These are common dilemmas in multicultural and peacebuilding efforts, but they were exacerbated in the Nigerian setting, where demographic divisions, state fragility, and ongoing violence make peaceful coexistence seem unlikely. The book examines Sesame Square as a form of American soft power designed to spread peace and American goodwill in the face of the extremist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden.” It questions whether American models of multiculturalism and peacebuilding should be transplanted into contexts with very different sociocultural realities.

1 Response

  1. Rachel Sawyer

    Hello Prof. Moland – I attended your book release last fall and found your work so intriguing! I am an AU student in my last semester of ITEP and am in a skills institute this weekend with Prof. Emily Morris. As part of an assignment, we are looking through CIES posters to think about ways to make research more participatory and leaving feedback for the authors. My question for you is – how have you disseminated your findings (differently) to a Nigerian audience? To be specific, the title seems oriented towards an American audience, but I imagine would not be as appealing (or even tasteful?) to Nigerians. I believe this came up at your book launch too. On a related note, what ways have you presented this work back to the communities you observed? Perhaps you’ve created some visuals or shortened presentations intended for the public to consume.

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