A child’s imagination is a powerful thing. Childlike innocence and wonder can transform mundane scenes into extraordinary events. This is what it means to see things through the eyes of a child.
No one understood this better than Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. His first children’s book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” came out in 1937. It was about a boy named Marco who told his father an elaborate tale about what he saw while coming home from school.
And what a tale it was! Among other things, Marco saw a blue elephant, a big brass band, several police officers, the mayor, an airplane dropping confetti, and a magician doing tricks.
In reality, of course, all Marco saw was a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street. Dr. Seuss’s story is a vivid depiction of the imagination of a child, with very clever rhymes to boot. His books are so well-written, and so filled with rhymes, that children enjoy reading them almost as much as “Sam-I-Am” liked eating “green eggs and ham.”
Sadly, some of Dr. Seuss’s books, including this one, are being removed from school and library shelves. In fact, Dr. Seuss Enterprises has decided to stop publishing six of Dr. Seuss’s books because of allegedly racist and insensitive imagery.
This didn’t come as a huge surprise, at least not to schoolteachers like me. Woke intellectuals and educators have been denouncing Dr. Seuss for years. The social justice educators’ group, Learning for Justice, claims there isn’t enough diversity in Dr. Seuss’s writings. They also argue that non-white characters are portrayed in subservient roles.
Several years ago, a school librarian made international headlines when she rejected a donation of several Dr. Seuss books from former first lady Melania Trump. According to this librarian, Dr. Seuss is a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature” and his books are steeped in “racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”
If this is the case, it’s very curious that Dr. Seuss’s books have remained popular among so many children and adults for almost 90 years. In fact, Read Across America Day, which was launched by the National Education Association, was initially tied closely to Dr. Seuss’s books. It even coincides with Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2.
Not only that, Dr. Seuss’s book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” has become a staple at high school graduation events. Many a graduation speaker has quoted the memorable line, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
It’s a vivid and humorous way of reminding grads that their destiny is in their own hands so they should choose wisely.
Now if we only used the brains in our head, as Dr. Seuss encouraged us to do, it would be obvious that his books, while far from perfect, do considerably more good than harm to children.
When it comes to promoting human rights, I’ll take the profound simplicity of “A person’s a person no matter how small” from “Horton Hears a Who!” over the incoherent ramblings of today’s social justice warriors.
This doesn’t mean that Dr. Seuss’s books don’t contain some stereotypical images. One would expect books written many years ago to be a product of their times. Societal norms and values change over time. We cannot expect books from the past to perfectly reflect the cultural norms of today. That would be unrealistic.
It makes far more sense to recognize the tremendous amount of good in Dr. Seuss’s books by keeping them in circulation. There aren’t many authors with enough staying power to remain popular from the generation of one’s grandparents to the generation of today. The fact that Dr. Seuss has become an icon in North American society is something to be celebrated, not cancelled.
In addition, we should not lose sight of the fact that children’s books won’t be read, at least not voluntarily, by children if they aren’t fun to read. Not everything our kids read needs to fit the politically correct norms promoted by a social justice cause. Sometimes children need to read a book for no other reason than simply because it is fun to read.
As Dr. Seuss put it years ago, “These things are fun and fun is good.” Let’s not cancel some of the most enjoyable and long-lasting children’s books we’ve ever had.
Cancel culture is the one thing that we really don’t need to see on Mulberry Street.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.