Meet Rockett and Zoe, the wokest kids in class. Their elementary school is currently celebrating "Dr. Seuss Week" as a part of National Read Across America Day, which coincides with the popular children's book author's birthday on March 2. But, as many may be unaware, Dr. Seuss was kind of racist. So these super-conscious siblings decided to help their classmates get more aware.
While Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, is best known for enduring, beloved books like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, he began his career as an illustrator and cartoonist who drew racist political cartoons expressing, among other things, vehement anti-Japanese sentiment. Geisel apparently had absolutely no problem with the incarceration of innocent Japanese Americans during World War II, depicting them in caricature as invading hordes and latent traitors loyal to the enemy.
So Rockett, 11, and Zoe, 10, took it upon themselves -- with little assistance or oversight from their parents, Steve and Leslie -- to create a flyer that educated people about Geisel's past racism. While they did have their parents' support and approval, I'm told that they came up with the flyer on their own (after an hour of them fighting and arguing about the content and format). Like I said, these are some woke-ass kids.
Here's the full flyer, which Rockett and Zoe distributed to fellow students:
Knowledge dropped. Their teachers, however, did not appreciate this attempt to provide an alternate, historical perspective on the work of Dr. Seuss. Zoe's teacher asked her to stop passing out the flyers, while Rockett's teacher confiscated the flyers, reported it to the principal, and sent the following email to his parents:
Hello Mr. and Mrs. Wong,
This morning, Rockett came to school with a stack of flyers to hand out regarding Dr. Suess. While he is absolutely entitled to his own thoughts and opinions, school is not the appropriate place for him to hand these flyers out. I am going to send them home with him today after school. I do applaud his civic mindedness.
Here's how Zoe and Rockett's father, Steve, responded:
I do want to begin my response to your email, and our children's actions of creating the flyer, by stating that we appreciate the non-racist work of Dr. Seuss. We have a collection of his books in home and we read many on them often to our kids when they were younger. A couple of years ago, we wanted to balance our love for Seuss Geisel's creativity by exposing our children to the darker side of his early racist works. So while we still respect his art, our family understands that Seuss Geisel, like many others we hold in high esteem, can indeed have a sordid past. Rockett wanted a way to express this to his classmates, and we gave him and his sister the okay to create something to achieve this goal of educating people about Geisel's past racism. They came up with the flyer on their own without much oversight on my own. Nonetheless, Leslie and I approved what they were doing and are ultimately the ones to be held accountable.
Rockett and Zoe's great-grandmother and great-grandfather who are still with us today, along with 120,000 innocent others (most of them American citizens), were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to U.S. concentration camps due to lack of leadership, rampant racism, and war hysteria. There was no basis or evidence of Japanese Americans involved in any espionage, and the U.S. has since apologized for the unconstitutional act against its own American citizens. However it is important to understand that Seuss Geisel, helped fuel that racism and war hysteria with many racist cartoons that he published during that time. His cartoons targeting Japanese Americans directly contributed to the public support of Executive Order 9066 (the executive order that incarcerated Japanese Americans). This is not an opinion, much like Hitler's anti-Semitism is not an opinion, for Geisel's hatred of Japanese is well documented, and is chronicled in American history books. Unfortunately our family has had a direct impact and has suffered directly from Geisel's cartoons.
We understand it is in your opinion that school is not for this type of "educational" encounter that Rockett attempted to present today. Perhaps trying to educate his fellow classmates with a flyer may have been a little unconventional and has placed you in an uncomfortable position. We respect your opinion and authority of what is deemed appropriate in your classroom, much as I would expect the same in my classroom, and will of course defer to you about what is appropriate. However I do have to say I disagree in principal with your standpoint that "school" is not the appropriate place to disseminate new, or differing ideas. America's educational intuitions should pride themselves as space for critical thought, as an environment to think outside the box, as an instution to understand that the arts, science, and history (including our American heroes) are not one dimensional subjects with only one narrative, but subjects with differing intersectional layers. As a teacher myself, I try to create a space where students can critically challenge assumptions, a space where students can question history, science, math, a space to propose a new perspective on older models. I was taught in school that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was for their own good. I wish that someone had challenged that perspective.
This is not to say that Geisel did not have a change of heart later in life. Perhaps he was just keeping up with the times when racial intolerance became distasteful in America, nonetheless he did make that turn. If I did have more oversight I would have insisted that they include his turnaround. However, we trusted that the kids did adequate research and based the flyer in facts.
We do appreciate that you applaud Rockett for his civic mindedness, and we appreciate the education you are providing him. I apologize for the length of this email, but I thought it was important to convey.
Props to Rockett and Zoe for refusing to quietly celebrate Dr. Seuss, and raising the issue of his problematic past. And much love and respect to their parents, for supporting this expression, urging them to critically challenge assumptions, and frankly, raising such awesome kids. It's just plain inspiring.