Earlier this month First Lady Melania Trump celebrated National Read a Book Day by selecting some children’s books and sending them to one school in each state. Mrs. Trump selected Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! because it was, “one of her personal favorites that she and her son have read together over and over.” Other books included in the shipment to schools in each state included One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Green Eggs and Ham among several others.
Tuesday, the librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School in Massachusetts wrote a response which informed the First Lady the school would be rejecting the books, calling them “racist propaganda.”
My students were interested in reading your enclosed letter and impressed with the beautiful bookplates with your name and the indelible White House stamp, however, we will not be keeping the titles for our collection. I’d like to respectfully offer my explanation…
Yearly per-pupil spending in Cambridge is well over $20,000; our city’s values are such that given a HUGE range in the socioeconomic status of our residents, we believe that each and every child deserves the best free education possible and are working hard to make that a reality (most classrooms maintain a 60/40 split between free/reduced lunch and paid lunch). This offers our Title I school and the district a lot of privilege and room for programming and pedagogy to foster “high standards of excellence.” Even so, we still struggle to close the achievement gap, retain teachers of color, and dismantle the systemic white supremacy in our institution. But hell, we test well! And in the end, it appears that data — and not children — are what matters…
Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes. Open one of his books (If I Ran a Zoo or And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, for example), and you’ll see the racist mockery in his art. Grace Hwang Lynch’s School Library Journal article, “Is the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away from Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books,” reports on Katie Ishizuka’s work analyzing the minstrel characteristics and trope nature of Seuss’s characters. Scholar Philip Nel’s new book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, further explores and shines a spotlight on the systemic racism and oppression in education and literature.
I am honored that you recognized my students and our school. I can think of no better gift for children than books; it was a wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out. Books can be a powerful way to learn about and experience the world around us; they help build empathy and understanding. In return, I’m attaching a list of ten books (it’s the librarian in me) that I hope will offer you a window into the lives of the many children affected by the policies of your husband’s administration.
For all of the effort to remain civil, it’s pretty clear the rejection of the books is intended as a big middle finger to the First Lady, the president, the Secretary of Education and of course Dr. Seuss. Unfortunately for Ms. Soeiro, she had no right to reject the books in the first place. From CBS News:
The Cambridge school system says the opinions in the editorial do not represent the district and released a statement, saying “the employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district.”
“We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes,” the district said.
As for Dr. Seuss being racist propaganda, I’m attaching a list of 6 video clips Ms. Soeiro should probably watch (it’s the blogger in me) that I hope will enlighten her. It turns out both Barack and Michelle Obama were quite fond of Dr. Seuss during their tenure in the White House. “This is one of the classics, a great book,” President Obama said of Green Eggs and Ham in 2010:
After President Obama was done First Lady Michelle Obama took over with a reading of another Seuss classic:
Here’s Michelle Obama celebrating Dr. Seuss at the Library of Congress in 2011 by reading Green Eggs and Ham:
Here in April 2013 is Michelle Obama’s mother reading One Fish, Two Fish on the White House lawn:
Here again is former First Lady Michelle Obama greeting the Cat in the Hat at a White House event in 2015:
And finally, here’s President Obama in April 2015, telling a group of interns that all of the important lessons in life are found in Dr. Seuss:
So I’m not suggesting that the librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School is a bad person with no sense of perspective, only that her open letter to the First Lady could have been better thought out.
Update: This photo from 2015 is making the rounds. This Twitter account is listed in the footer of the letter to the First Lady written by Liz Phipps Soeiro (see screengrab below). It certainly looks like the same person:
— CPORT | Specialists (@Cport_Special) March 3, 2015