Cancelling Dr. Seuss

Cancelling Dr. Seuss: I Kid You Not


Leonard Zwelling

I am not at all opposed to wokeness if it causes people to realize that there are offensive behaviors and discriminatory language to which we all ought to be sensitive and not use. But that’s now. Not in 1950.

The news reported in The New York Times (above) and many other outlets is that six of the classic Dr. Seuss books, one dating to 1937, will no longer be published upon the decision of Dr. Seuss Enterprises. One title that will no longer be available is my favorite book of all time, If I Ran The Zoo (1950). My father read me that book religiously when I was small and I read it to my kids. I have a copy for my grandsons as well. Thank goodness I bought it when I did. It may become a collectors’ item soon.

I was well aware for many years that some of the images of black people and Asians might be considered offensive. They were stereotypical and consistent with behavior and attitudes at the times that they were written. That doesn’t make them right or wrong. They are reflections of the zeitgeist of the era in which they were conceived and as such should be preserved to the same extent that Huckleberry Finn is. In the old days, many white people were insensitive to what they were writing and drawing. I get it. I also get that they do not provide great examples for today’s kids. BUT, these are classic stories and historical remnants of a culture now on the wane. That’s neither a priori good nor bad. It just is.

The thought that some of my most cherished childhood books will no longer be published because they contain images that might offend some people using today’s standards is illogical. Like all art, these arose in a context and that context was white-dominant America. As such they are indicators of thinking in those times and can serve as heuristic for people today. Those times are disappearing, but the relics must be preserved as educational markers for outdated thinking.

I have the same trouble with this that I have with trigger warnings, political correctness, and banning certain speakers from college campuses because they do not espouse the dominant liberal thought processes on campus. This is all very dangerous and personally I find it offensive to stop the publication of children’s books because they may contain harmful images. Instead, teach the books and show how the images are offensive so that everyone can understand the history and the context of that history.

I don’t think children, adolescents or college age young adults are so fragile that they cannot absorb these issues, understand them and realize the mistakes made by their elders. We all grow and we all learn.

Dr. Seuss books are the way many young people were introduced to reading. They are incredibly valuable in that respect. That a few images might offend is unfortunate but does not eliminate the good that can derive from these books. This is a terrible decision and another victory for the PC squad and a defeat for rational straight thinking. Too bad.

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