Is the Dr. Seuss controversy a tempest in a teapot? Hell no.

You’ve may have heard all you want to hear about poor Dr. Seuss and Cancel Culture.

The publishers of Theodore Geisel’s books have decided that six of them won’t be published anymore because they are explicitly racist in the way Geisel drew some of his characters.

They are absolutely right.

The right wing went all cancel culture.

But the liberal’s defense may have been worse. Geisel’s early racist depictions of Black and Asian people were excused as an simply an issue of context. “That’s the way it was in those days,” some said.

But I think that’s nonsense. They were as racist when he drew them as they are now.

While the Right wants to make this about something called Cancel Culture, I think it is about teaching and learning.

I always made a practice of starting off my art classes, particularly with kindergarten and first grade, by reading books that I took time to select. They were high quality stories with great illustrations. Sometimes the books were connected to what we would be making later in class. Sometimes they were just great books.

And I made sure that the stories and characters were inclusive, respectful and never racial stereotypes.

The Cat in the Hat was a great introduction to making wild and imaginative paper hats.

Anything by Ezra Jack Keats was just a good book with real characters, beautifully drawn and characters in the stories were not all white.

As teachers and parents we should be reflecting on the books we make available to our children and students.

I recall being surprised to find a copy of Five Chinese Brothers in our LRC and suggested it be pulled from circulation.

I was ignored.

I suppose I was engaging in cancel culture and I don’t deny it.

Years ago I was the subject of a Freedom of Information Act request from a group called the Education Action Group. The group was based in Michigan and they wanted all my work emails and access to my personnel file, convinced I was using my position as union president to do evil things.

Talk about your cancel culture.

The head of the EAG was a guy named Kyle Olson. Olson won his 15 minutes of fame by traveling the country appearing on right-wing radio and tv and attacking a children’s book, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type.

Olson said teachers were using the book to spread Bolshevik ideology and unionism.

I wrote some posts.

Olson wanted to start something over the book. I said bring it on.

I hope it brought some attention to Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type and more copies were sold.

What I’m saying is that the controversy over Dr. Seuss is a good thing.

We should only want the best, the highest quality, the most inclusive, the most anti-racist learning materials for our students.

5 thoughts on “Is the Dr. Seuss controversy a tempest in a teapot? Hell no.

    1. Did he draw racist cartoons? If he did I wouldn’t use them in classroom instruction. Obviously.

  1. Judging and removing books because they are no longer appropriate through the lens of how we see and judge things today is censorship- and where does it stop? We’ve already removed Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Should we also remove Laura Ingells Wilder because Little House on the Prairie uses racist stereotypes of Native Americans? Or maybe we should remove Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice because it’s anti Semitic. Perhaps we should remove books about Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor and Grant because they owned slaves.

    Are their problems with authors’ racist depictions in some older books? Yes. Should they be required reading in school curriculum? Absolutely not. But instead of canceling them, perhaps we should have the option to use them at home to talk with our children about how we treat people, and mistakes that were made in the past because of prejudice.

    1. Constantly reviewing books for school use is exactly what has always been done. One criteria is because those books are no longer appropriate through a contemporary lens. Nobody would suggest showing Birth of a Nation as history in a modern classroom. Not only shouldn’t we remove books about our slaveholding presidents, we should be teaching that they were slave owners and how slavery was the very foundation of this country. For age appropriate students we should teach the debate. For K-1 students – the age we use books by Dr. Seuss – we should not use books with racial stereotypes when there are better choices.

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