[guest post by Dana]
In recognition of National Read a Book Day, First Lady Melania Trump had the unmitigated gall to send a bundle of children’s books to schools across the country identified as having “programs that have achieved high standards of excellence”. Ten copies of various Dr. Seuss books were sent to one school in each of the 50 states. The titles included: Seuss-isms!; Because a Little Bug Went KaChoo; What Pet Should I Get?; The Cat in the Hat; I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; The Foot Book; Wacky Wednesday; Green Eggs and Ham; and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. Classics.
Unfortunately, not all librarians were thrilled with the gesture, nor responded with polite appreciation. Cambridgeport Elementary School’s Liz Phipps Soeiro said just as much in an open letter to Mrs. Trump. After a snarky opening, “Thank you for the ten Dr. Seuss titles that you sent my school library in recognition of this year’s National Read a Book Day. (Sent second-day air, no less! That must have been expensive,” Soeiro informs Mrs. Trump that because they receive so much funding as a Title I school, their per pupil spending affords the highly diverse school to provide well for their students, therefore they don’t need the books. She then proceeds to school the ignorant Mrs. Trump, putting her personal politics on full display:
Even so, we still struggle to close the achievement gap, retain teachers of color, and dismantle the systemic white supremacy in our institution. But hell, we test well! And in the end, it appears that data — and not children — are what matters.
Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school “choice” with no interest in outcomes of children, their families, their teachers, and their schools*. Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? Why not reflect on those “high standards of excellence” beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.
(Note: I would like Soeiro to reflect upon the fact that it is precisely because of an interest in the outcomes of children that we are seeing the privatization of schools, an increase in the numbers of parents opting to homeschool their children, and the demand for more “choice”. Also, given that Soeiro’s personal politics are driving this, I would like her to reflect upon who runs the school districts of Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit, which group is responsible to allocate available resources, and to whom those resources are going. I spent a bit of time researching this yesterday, and it wasn’t too hard to find the common thread running through each of these cities. Further, I would like Soeiro to reflect upon who was president for 8 years until 9 months ago. )
And I’ll just say it: If Mrs. Obama had gifted Soeiro’s library with the same titles, you and I both know this letter would not have been written, and the books would have been graciously received, whether needed or not. And it would have been taken as an honor and distinction to have been recognized in this way.
Amusingly, Soeiro then goes on to launch an attack against an even bigger villain than Melania Trump: Dr. Seuss himself:
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.
Soeiro attached a list of recommended titles to her letter that she believes Mrs. Trump should instead consider providing to school libraries. A brief description by Soeiro of the titles provided accompanied the list:
The beautiful resilience of children who stand up to racism and oppression and for social justice and reform;
Children who are trying to connect with parents who are incarcerated simply because of their immigration status;
Children who integrate aspects of their own cultures and countries of origin into their new country;
Children whose parents risked everything to enter the U.S. so they can have a chance at a future free from violence and/or poverty;
Children who challenge society’s social constraints and are accepted and loved as who they say they are.
Anyway, I wanted to point out this proclamation by then President Obama in honor of Read Across America Day in 2016. A proclamation to which I could find no letter of condemnation published by Soeiro:
March 2 is also the birthday of one of America’s revered wordsmiths. Theodor Seuss Geisel — or Dr. Seuss — used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear. Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things; and by example, taught us that we are limited by nothing but the range of our aspirations and the vibrancy of our imaginations. And for older lovers of literature, he reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously, creating wacky and wild characters and envisioning creative and colorful places.
Today, and every day, let us celebrate the power of reading by promoting literacy and supporting new opportunities for students to plunge into the pages of a book. As Dr. Seuss noted, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Together, we can help all children go plenty of places along their unending journey for knowledge and ensure everyone can find joy and satisfaction in the wonders of the written word.
In conclusion, you might ask, can ten children’s books can really make a difference? According to this commenter, yes:
What school librarian turns down FREE books?? As a retired middle school librarian(I too hold a master’s in library science) and 36 years of experience, I started a book bank(Bowman’s Book Bank) last year to hand out free books to the children in my former school district(where I also volunteer) who have little to no access to books in their neighborhoods…I am constantly looking for free books for them. I also loathe Trump and what he is doing to our country, but that is beside the point. You are making this about yourself and not your students. A simple “thank you” would have sufficed and then perhaps you could have donated those books to someone like me who is trying to get books into the hands of children who have little to no access…am sure there are MANY places that would gladly take them off of your hands.
Of course that would require a thoughtful individual willing to put their personal politics aside because they truly believe the company line that it really is, “for the children”.
Cambridge Public Schools released a statement in response to questions about Soeiro’s actions:
“In this instance, the employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district. We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes.”
Thanks to commenter narciso, we can see that when President Obama was in office, Soeiro’s view of Dr. Seuss was quite the opposite of what her letter to Mrs. Trump argues. Note the date of the tweet:
Thanks to commenter TomK, that was then, this is now:
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)