Yertle the Turtle
They cannot, they must not quote Dr. Seuss. Not in the school. Not in the hall. Not in B.C. No, not at all.
With relations between the teachers union and the provincial government frosty, teachers in a small British Columbia town have been told they can’t display Dr. Seuss quotes because they are considered political messaging.
B.C. teachers are upset with Bill 22, which came into effect last month, ending their strike and bringing in a mediator. In Prince Rupert, teachers have been displaying their disappointment on T-shirts, signs and bumper stickers.
Now, a Grade 1 teacher at a Prince Rupert elementary school has been told by the school district she could be disciplined for having the quote “I know, up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights” on her clothing or in her vehicle while on school property.
The quote comes from Dr. Seuss’s book Yertle the Turtle, in which Yertle orders the other turtles to stack up on one another so he can climb to the top and see all there is to see.
In all, eight teachers in the district have received letters letting them know they could face discipline for displaying political messages.
Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union, said the administration doesn’t want students to see the messages.
“We feel very censored here right now. We have feelings that our rights to freedom of expression have been violated,” Larson said.
Teachers with anti-Bill 22 bumper stickers have decided to park off school property to avoid receiving the letters. However, they’ve also begun to fill their vehicles with “all kinds of messages” — including several Dr. Seuss quotes.
“If they try to use a heavy-handed approach, we just have more people trying to exercise civil disobedience,” Larson said.
Dr. Seuss’ books have been mined for their messages for decades. Horton Hears a Who is said to tackle prejudice, while The Butter Battle Book is seen as a critique of the Cold War.
The Lorax, a classic tale of the horrors of environmental degradation, reignited controversy when it was released as a movie in March, prompting some to declare it was “too liberal.” Fox News has said the kids movie was trying to “indoctrinate our children” with its “anti-industry message.”
Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was a political mind from his very beginnings, and started out by drawing political cartoons for a liberal newspaper in the 1940s, said Judith Morgan, author of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel.
“He knew he was writing against greed and destruction of the planet and narrow-minded, close-minded types,” Morgan said in an email.
But his success and unique style allowed him to push the boundaries of children’s literature through both messages and art.
There’s no surprise that activists continue to find meaning in his work today, Morgan said.
“Seuss’ work continues to resonate with kids and parents because it is honest; it battles prejudice; it sends the imagination soaring and fits the wonder of a young child’s mind and dreams,” she said.
Meanwhile, Larson said Dr. Seuss books are available in school libraries and often taught in elementary classrooms. She said banning the Yertle the Turtle quote is “very upsetting” to teachers.
“And it’s the ridiculous nature of it that makes it almost unbelievable,” she said.
Larson believes the teachers’ conflict with the administration embodies the “ridiculous human nature” Dr. Seuss wrote about.
“This is why he did what he did,” she said. “I think he would think it’s absurd.”