The Grinch (actor Jim Carrey) - from the film
The Grinch (actor Jim Carrey) - from the film "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas," - movies 2000 costumes characters scene

Schools shift away from ‘racist’ Dr Seuss

A US school system will shift its focus away from Dr Seuss after a study found the popular children's books displayed "harmful and stereotypical Orientalist tropes".

The Loudoun school system, in the US state of Virginia, triggered the debate after it revealed it had called on its institutions to promote a more diverse group of books to kids.

Read Across America Day is held on March 2 each year, the birthday of Dr Seuss.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, whose pen name is Dr Seuss, is responsible for some of the most popular children's books ever published.

But a study from 2019 shed a different light on the author's books, revealing only 45 of the more than 2200 human characters in 50 of Dr Seuss' books were people of colour.

Of those 45 characters, 43 showed behaviour that had harmful, racist undertones.

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Dr Seuss’ ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’.
Dr Seuss’ ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’.

Addressing the controversy, Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard was not banning the books, but simply shifting to a more diverse pool of literature.

"Dr Seuss books have not been banned in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). LCPS believes that rumour started because March 2 is 'Read Across America' day," Mr Byard told The Washington Post.

"Schools in LCPS, and across the country, have historically connected Read Across America Day with Dr Seuss' birthday.

"Research in recent years has revealed strong racial undertones in many books written/illustrated by Dr Seuss.

"Given this research, and LCPS' focus on equity and culturally responsive instruction, LCPS has provided guidance to schools in the past couple of years to not connect Read Across America Day with Dr Seuss' birthday exclusively.

"We want to encourage our young readers to read all types of books that are inclusive and diverse and reflective of our student community, not simply celebrate Dr Seuss.

"Dr Seuss and his books are no longer the emphasis of Read Across America Day.

"That being said, Dr. Seuss books have not been banned; they are still available to students in our libraries and classrooms."

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Dr Seuss has been the face of Read Across America for more than two decades but schools are increasingly moving away from the books.

The 2019 study, titled The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books, found "white supremacy is seen through the centring of whiteness and white characters, who comprise 98 per cent of all characters".

"Notably, every character of colour is male. Males of colour are only presented in subservient, exotified, or dehumanised roles," the report added.

"This also remains true in their relation to white characters.

"Most startling is the complete invisibility and absence of women and girls of colour across Seuss' entire children's book collection.

"In addition, some of Dr Seuss' most iconic books feature animal or non-human characters that transmit orientalist, anti-black, and white supremacist messaging through allegories and symbolism."

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American author Theodor Seuss Geisel.
American author Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Dr Seuss is best known for his stories Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

The National Education Association, which created Read Across America Day, moved to "celebrating a nation of diverse readers" from 2017.

Dr Seuss has increasingly found himself in the news over the years.

In 2017, the librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School, in the US state of Massachusetts, rejected a gift of Dr Seuss books from then-First Lady Melania Trump.

Librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro said the illustrations were "steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes".

"You may not be aware of this, but Dr Seuss is a bit of a cliche, a tired and worn ambassador for children's literature," she said at the time.

"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."

 

 

Originally published as Schools shift away from 'racist' Dr Seuss


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