June 19, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a “Cancel Culture” Controversy Erupts’

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6. What is your reaction to the article? How does it affect your views on Dr. Seuss and his books? Does reading the article change any of your views from the warm-up activity? How do you think we — the public, book publishers, libraries, educators — should respond, if at all, to classics that some argue are “out of step with current social and cultural values”?

Option 1: Share your thoughts and opinions.

Choose one or more of the following writing prompts:

  • Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book? What do you think accounts for their enduring appeal? The playful rhymes? The fantastical characters? The positive themes and messages, such as in “The Lorax,” about protecting the environment, or “The Sneetches,” about prejudice and acceptance? Do you have a memorable childhood memory of reading or being read Dr. Seuss?

  • Ms. Alter and Ms. Harris write, “For many people, regardless of their politics, there is a disconnect between books that feel cozy and familiar from their childhood, and accusations that they could be offensive or hurtful.” What do they mean by that statement? Have you ever seen a book you loved as a child come under scrutiny for being offensive or hurtful? If so, how did it feel? Did your childhood feelings affect how you critically re-evaluated the book?

  • In 2019, before the current controversy, Gabriel Smith wrote for Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance): “Two things can be true at the same time: Dr. Seuss is a prolific children’s book author and global icon. And Dr. Seuss has a history of racial baggage that educators should understand when introducing his writing to their students.” Do you agree with either or both of these statements? How should educators, parents and siblings talk to younger children about Dr. Seuss? How would you describe Dr. Seuss’s legacy? Do you think you would read his books to your own children one day?

To learn more about Dr. Seuss’s work and legacy and the charges of stereotyping, visit The Times’s Theodor Seuss Geisel topic page or read some of these articles from beyond The Times:

Option 2: Explore the impact of stereotypical and offensive children’s books on readers.

In “Six Seuss Books Bore a Bias,” Charles Blow, a Times Opinion columnist, writes about the insidious and harmful affects of racism in children’s books and culture:

As a child, I was led to believe that Blackness was inferior. And I was not alone. The Black society into which I was born was riddled with these beliefs.

It wasn’t something that most if any would articulate in that way, let alone knowingly propagate. Rather, it was in the air, in the culture. We had been trained in it, bathed in it, acculturated to hate ourselves.

It happened for children in the most inconspicuous of ways: It was relayed through toys and dolls, cartoons and children’s shows, fairy tales and children’s books.

At every turn, at every moment, I was being baptized in the narrative that everything white was right, good, noble and beautiful, and everything Black was the opposite.

It concludes:

Racism must be exorcised from culture, including, or maybe especially, from children’s culture. Teaching a child to hate or be ashamed of themselves is a sin against their innocence and a weight against their possibilities.

Read the entire piece and then tell us what you think: What aspects of Mr. Blow’s essay resonate with you? Have you seen or experienced that children’s books and popular culture can have a harmful impact on young minds — especially about what it means to be Black or white? Do you agree with his contention that “racism must be exorcised from culture, including, or maybe especially, from children’s culture”? Why or why not?

Which children’s books, if any, have you read that you found problematic, offensive or hurtful? Do you believe that any children’s books had a negative impact on you? If so, explain why.

Option 3: Read a children’s book aloud to someone.

Read Across America Day was March 2, the same day as Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Started in 1998 by the National Education Association, Read Across America Day was created as a way to encourage children to read. Did you participate?

This year, the N.E.A. is focusing on diverse children’s books and has provided a list of recommended reading for the year.

If you could choose any children’s book to read aloud to a young child, what would you choose and why? Consider the N.E.A.’s goal of diversity in children’s literature. Will children of different races, genders and cultural backgrounds see themselves in a positive light in this book? Does this book perpetuate harmful stereotypes or disrupt them? What messages and values will your book choice teach young children?

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