Dr. Seuss is getting a lot of attention this week.
If you haven’t read about the decision to no longer publish 6 books you can do so here.
The CBC article has many good points, some of which I will discuss below.
First, let’s talk about the impact of images and words in books.
The impact can be positive of negative. And not just to the child whose identity is either upheld or maligned – to all readers. What we see and read adds to our mental associations and conscious/unconscious beliefs about ourselves and others.
As parents and educators then, we need to be conscious of what our children read (or what we read to them). The books that perpetuate isms and stereotypes can be used to illustrate these things and encourage/teach critical thinking. Educator Nadia Hohn mentions this in the CBC article, adding that training is required so that teachers can do this well. Parents too for that matter!
Remember, when a stereotypes aligns with our beliefs, we don’t necessarily see it as a stereotype or problematic….
Years ago when I did my Masters’ at OISE my research was on teaching children to spot bias in books. What I found (which surprised me) was that they were most concerned about gender stereotypes, despite being kids of colour. Try as I might, they didn’t notice the bias about skin colour. I wonder what that says about how deeply racial bias is embedded in our lives and systems.
But back to Dr. Seuss.
How do we learn from history?
Cancel culture as it is called in the article makes me think of the many statues that have come down related to Confederation, Slavery, and Colonization, and the different viewpoints on that.
While it is true that if we don’t learn from history we are (perhaps) more apt to repeat it, I also think that how we learn from history is important. Equally important, I believe, is the space that history takes up, and whose narrative is included.
While some of us may be able to pick up a book, read it critically, and then use it as a tool to help our children understand the world and make it better, many of us won’t be able to (for various reasons) or won’t want to. And some children will be left to read these on their own – and we know that words and images leave impressions, impact self esteem and behaviour, and can add to trauma.
It’s a delicate balance of not sweeping things under the rug, as Nadia Hohn states, and moving forward with a new energy and mindset. Which requires commitment and work.
In my world, that’s about both/and – which you can read more about in my upcoming book Being Brown in a Black and White World, available in April.