The recent controversy involving renowned children’s author, Dr. Seuss, has caused scholars to engage in a conversation about the use of race in literature.
Dr. Seuss has been part of a social media dispute that doesn’t include colorful rhymes, but another discussion that mirrors the country’s current social climate.
The books included in the withdrawal were: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super, and The Cat’s Quizzer.
The surprise from parents and educators is expected since most know Seuss as the beloved children’s writer — author of Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who and Green Eggs and Ham. Very few, however, know Theodor Seuss Geisel —the German American political cartoonist and author.
Ivana Lash, a graduate student at West Chester University said she is willing to give credit to Seuss for his creativity as an author, but also respects the company’s decision.
“I have never realized or even noticed that Dr. Seuss’ books were offensive because if they were wouldn’t there already have been an outrage?” said Lash. “As an educator, if it’s deemed offensive content towards my students or any students then it’s inappropriate to share.”
In an article titled Every Work of American Literature Is About Race, Tressie McMillan Cottom, sociologist and essayist, tells to the New York Times that the nature of race continues to change.
“Race is a living, breathing thing that morphs across time and context and even our own understanding; so the most important books that have shaped my understanding of race are tied to who I was at the time that I read them. The list will change as I change, and that is as it should be,” said Cottom.
In 1941, Seuss’ war cartoons targeted isolationism, anti-Semitism and racism, but like Cottom’s views suggest, Seuss’ work was greatly influenced by the prevailing culture. Some of these influences were evident in his portrayals of both Japanese citizens and Japanese Americans.
Dr. Marianne Modica, the chair of education at the University of Valley Forge, explains that the images can cause children to adopt racist views unconsciously, but when used correctly the imagery can be used as a learning tool.
“I think offensive literature and images can be used as a learning tool for students who are able to think deeply about the negative effects of these images and the unarticulated motivations and dispensations of those who create and propagate them, said Modica. “However, this kind of critique depends upon the parent or teacher’s level of awareness and ability to communicate the racist underpinnings of such images.
Dr. Wanda Brooks, a literacy professor at Temple University also agrees that the decision to keep Seuss’ work part of children’s learning curriculum is left up to parents and teachers. Brooks said although the decision is theirs, the news coverage may encourage a deeper conversation.
“Authors, illustrators, and publishers have once again been made aware of the damaging nature of stereotypical images,” said Brooks. “Parents, too, may look at their children’s book collections in a new light and maybe more willing or able to have important conversations about race with their children.”