When I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my grandparents in Panama.
I loved visiting, but one of the drawbacks was that in a tropical climate, you are bound to get your fair share of tropical bugs!
Whenever there were bugs, my grandmother would say, ‘Get the Flit!’
Now, the spray can did not say Flit on it. It said Raid or whatever Panamanian version of bug killer was at the bodega that week.
I always wondered why she called it that. If I tried to correct it, I got the ‘You know what I MEANT look!’
It took me years to piece together that story, with the story I’m telling you today.
About five years ago was the first time the word RACIST had been used in concert with the name SEUSS.
Initially, I paid it no mind. I did no further research. I asked no questions.
I read Seuss books with my students yearly and it was something I enjoyed doing.
A few years ago, I actually read my first article on Seuss and racism. It actually happened pretty organically. I had switched back to teaching older children.
I was looking for old fashioned ads for a project. After going through a few, I came across this image.
Flit was a brand of insect repellent. The slogan ‘Quick, Henry, the Flit!” was a household catchphrase in its day.
It reminded me of summers in Panama with my grandmother! So of course, I went down the rabbit hole looking for other images of ‘Flit’ to share with my students.
You can imagine my surprise when I came across these.
There were more.
Seuss created ads for 17 years.
I have heard the argument that later in life he may have attempted to walk these statements back. That he was a man of his time, and that we should not judge him based solely on the period of time that he created the ads. We must think of the ‘broader appeal’ of his work. My question to you is were people that looked like YOU presented in a negative light in his work? If not, then you have the privilege of NOT seeing yourself in his work. And that affords you the grace to still read his work ‘with a grain of salt’.
I can’t tell people NOT to ever read a Seuss book again.
What I CAN tell you is that I believe that if you refuse to educate yourself on the author and man, you’re not a teacher who is interested in growing.
His work can not be viewed outside of the lens in which he wrote it.
You as the teacher must be knowledgeable about the texts that you’re sharing with your learners.
Students must be able to analyze the images and text that they are presented with. Older students certainly can wrestle with these images and the implications well. They can form opinions on their perceptions and source texts from groups marginalized by Seuss as well as supporters of his work.
Lots of research has been done on this topic already, and if you’re interested in educating yourself, here are some links.
It’s not bad if you’ve read his work and not known of the implications.
It’s bad if after being presented with the facts, you choose not to look at ways in which you can personally change, or nuance celebrations that feature Seuss as a children’s literature hero.
Let’s do the work!