The telling of history is never fair. Even the best historians have their biases and agendas. Anyone who has carefully read the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible know that even there we find different perspectives.
There will always be a dominant narrative and those who will fight to be heard to correct it. There will always be speech that some engage in that others deem unacceptable; sometimes for right and just reasons but more often for the opposite.
There will never be a time when the youngest generation picks up writings from the oldest living generation and fails to find the thinking either backward or offensive. There will always be those who think things were better “back then” and others who know better.
I believe that much of the language and attitudes present when I was growing needed to change. What I am not so sure about is allowing us to skirt language and attitudes by effectively banning it from public discourse. The recent decision by the estate of Dr. Seuss to cease publication of five titles is a lost opportunity for teaching and empathy.
I can say, as a parent, that we read and watched racist, sexist, and otherwise “-ist” material to our children. What usually happened was a response from them about how it sounded or looked offensive.
It gave us teaching opportunities and they learned empathy and how to emotionally handle such situations better when they happened in life. As adults it is important for us to make decisions about what our children (and grandchildren) take into their young minds and hearts.
There has been a recent movement to add disclaimers to some older movies, ban some classic books, or stop the reading of some books in our schools. There is really nothing new here. Even the Bible has been banned in “Christian” countries in the past; and people died who published anyway. Puritans (and I do not mean this pejoratively) banned the reading of some parts of the Old Testament because of the sexual language used (Song of Solomon was at the top of the list).
On March 2, this statement was published on seussville.com “Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship. We are committed to action. To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: 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. These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong. Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
I understand the impulse here, but this statement is indicative of some issues our society must address if we are going to truly make some important and needed changes. I am not criticizing either the statement or its intention. It has made me think a little about our environment.
Dr. Seuss (we’ll just stick with that name) published over 50 titles when he was alive and there have been at least 17 more since. Of those books that are being discontinued the latest was released in 1976, and the one before that, 1955.
I find it amazing that a man who wrote that many children’s books over that time span produced only five that have been deemed unacceptable in today’s hypersensitive environment. On balance, he did much to reduce racism and promote kindness.
I think it is important for our children, and us, to see the whole of people. It teaches us forgiveness. It teaches us that even our heroes make mistakes. It shows us that people grow and change. What a missed opportunity to make a statement about the content of certain books and then teach. Scrubbing them out will not change who Dr. Seuss was — not that it will actually happen any time soon.
The best stories are not those who arrived on the planet with all the knowledge about how to treat others and who never make mistakes. The Bible does not hide the mistakes of its heroes. We see all of it, and are the better for it. Even if we think it is for the good of others, attempting to eliminate those works we find offensive never works.
And to the extent it does temporarily, it deprives all of us the opportunity to either see ourselves for who we are or make changes that need to be made.