The “anti-racist” organization, Learning for Justice (formerly known as Teaching Tolerance), says it can no longer use a Dr. Seuss book, that was a key part of their “anti-racism” curriculum to teach acceptance to children after last week’s Dr. Seuss “cancellation” drama.
Learning for Justice used to use the Dr. Seuss book, “The Sneetches,” to teach children how to overcome visible differences to forge lasting friendships. In the book, there are two types of “Sneetches” — giant, yellow, bird-like creatures with barrel bellies — one with plain bellies and one with star-shaped marks on their bellies. The two groups begin at odds with one another but ultimately learn to see their similarities rather than their singular difference.
Now, though, Teaching Tolerance says Dr. Seuss is under stricter scrutiny as a result of Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision to pull six of the author’s lesser-known works over “hurtful and wrong” depictions of certain ethnic groups, and they no longer believe “The Sneetches” is actually “anti-racist” as they assumed.
“In light of a new study revealing stereotyped characters across Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, published just before Read Across America Day, how can educators engage older students in a critical discussion of this canonical author?” the group asked in a post to their website.
In fact, they believe that the “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss should not be limited to just six books but should affect his entire collection of works because Dr. Seuss did not “actively resist” racism in his own time.
The researchers behind the study that marked Dr. Seuss as “racist, the group says, “set out to address ‘a gap in Seuss literature by revealing how racism spans across the entire Seuss collection.’ Responding to the idea that Geisel was simply a product of his time, they disagree. ‘[N]ot all White people ‘of his time’ engaged in overt racism or used their platforms to disseminate racist narratives and images nationally and globally, as he did,’ they argue. ‘There are White people throughout history, and of his generation, who actively resisted racism and risked their lives and careers to stand up against it.'”
The group’s conclusion is at odds with Dr. Seuss’s own biography. The children’s author was instrumental in pressing for the United States to enter World War II because he realized, quite early, that the Nazis were intent on exterminating the Jewish population.
No matter, though. Learning for Justice says that the study means they can no longer use Dr. Seuss’s works — even the good ones — and that “The Sneetches” has to be re-examined in light of Dr. Seuss’s personal history.
“In light of this new information, you may wonder about Dr. Seuss books featuring non-human characters,” they said in a statement to their website. “At Teaching Tolerance, we’ve even featured anti-racist activities built around the Dr. Seuss book The Sneetches. But when we re-evaluated, we found that the story is actually not as ‘anti-racist’ as we once thought. And it has some pretty intricate layers you and your students might consider, too.”
It turns out that, while the Sneetches might have addressed their own overt prejudices, they failed to address the underlying “structural racism” that gave rise to their initial conflict over belly stars.
“The solution to the story’s conflict is that the Plain-Belly Sneetches and Star-Bellied Sneetches simply get confused as to who is oppressed. As a result, they accept one another,” the group says. “This message of ‘acceptance’ does not acknowledge structural power imbalances. It doesn’t address the idea that historical narratives impact present-day power structures. And instead of encouraging young readers to recognize and take action against injustice, the story promotes a race-neutral approach.”