Settling in at the sleek, black table, I opened my laptop. Across from me sat our school librarian and media specialist, Shannon. Behind her, large windows revealed a small courtyard, haphazardly adorned with patches of grubby snow, vestiges of a winter storm stubbornly refusing to fade away. I could hear the roaring blowers of the heater working to fill the space of the vast library. Gradually, Shannon and I commenced our task.
Sometime toward the end of our work that day, our conversation diverted to an article I recently read at npr.org entitled, “Dr. Seuss Books Can Be Racist, But Students Keep Reading Them.” Since Shannon and I plan activities for our Read Across America celebration each year, I felt curious about her take on a central question posed in this article: “…Should we continue to teach classic books that may be problematic, or eschew them in favor of works that more positively represent people of color?” I also wondered what she thought about viewing Dr. Seuss as a racist?
This question raised in the article caused me to remember and repeat a claim by a book club member only last week who had said, “It’s not really fair to view history through the lens of today’s norms.” Since she had made that statement, it has been rolling around in my mind like a marble in a jar. On one hand, I tend to agree that in many situations it would seem inappropriate to judge the actions and words of historical figures by today’s cultural standards and mores, as those people were living within the confines of a culture informed by different standards and mores.
However, I am also able to see that on a topic like racism, the question can become much murkier, especially when it comes to a well-known and beloved author like Dr. Seuss. And it’s interesting to think about his books being characterized in such a way as they are in the National Public Radio article, as akin to snow that stubbornly hangs around in the courtyard, refusing to go away.
And I also wonder about the possible effects on my own children? Have I unwittingly instilled any type of misrepresentative, mono-cultural understanding of society upon them by reading Dr. Seuss to them as young children?
Shannon and I didn’t reach any hard and fast conclusions in our discussion, as I am not sure the answers are simple.