Saturday, February 23, 2019

Physician, Heal Thyself

I came across something on Twitter this morning that stunned me yet somehow didn’t surprise me. It’s about Dr. Seuss. You may think that Dr. Seuss doesn’t have a local connection, but if you’ve ever had a child in a local school you know that Dr. Seuss is on the menu annually.

More about that tomorrow. Here’s a piece I wrote for Columbia Patch in 2013. I was surprised to see you can still find it. I suppose this qualifies as my very first Benign Unpopular Opinion.

Cat in the Hat? No, Thanks!

I hate Dr. Seuss. No, I don't. I dislike the work of Dr. Seuss. I hate the Cat in the Hat. It is easy to get confused since Dr. Seuss' birthday, Read across America Day, and the Cat in the Hat character have been fused into one giant educommercial-edutainment complex.

I taught Preschool, I taught Kindergarten, I have two children, and I hate the Cat in the Hat. I hated it when I was little, and I still do.

Let's look at it from a child's point of view: a smiling stranger gets into your house, takes complete control and you are helpless. Powerless. And you are supposed to like it. Although it doesn't really matter if you do or not.

Great fun, right? 

And, from an adult's point of view: two parents leave their children unsupervised for an indefinite amount of time. The children allow a stranger to come in the house, who smilingly, charmingly, takes complete control. In the process he very nearly kills the only character who passes for parental stability--the fish. In fact, the fish really stands for the voice of their Better Judgement, doesn't he?

And then it builds to a chaotic frenzy where it's all about getting everything cleaned up before the parents come home--you don't want to tell your parents, do you children? Really, they'd never believe you...

Am I the only one who sees child abuse written all over this?

Horton Hears A Who is a vivid and painful account of torment, mockery, bullying. Of hearing and believing an inner truth but being disbelieved. Horton is good, kind, helpful. And helpless. As a child I cried when the tiny Who folk cried out, "We are here! We are here!" I still do. 

The happy ending in no way makes up for the abuse, to my mind.

Now, it is true that I was very shy as a child, and that I was seeking a safe, comforting world view. The illustrations of Eloise Wilkin in My Little Golden Books were restful to me. The Doctor Seuss books always felt ugly and threatening.  The additional insult was that everyone said that children just *loved* them. 

Theodore Geisel had a great facility for word play. He was given the task of writing vocabulary-controlled readers. He did what he did very well. But let us not confuse that with a deep love for or compassionate understanding of children. Let us not make of his work our only blueprint for a religion of childhood reading.

If you like Dr. Seuss, if his stories ring true
If the Cat in the Hat makes you laugh til you're blue
Then I'm glad that you like it. Insult you? I won't.
Just don't make me read it or like it,
Just don't.

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