“No to decadence and moral corruption! Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaeser, Erich Kästner.” –Joseph Goebbels, 1933
When statues and monuments all across the United States were toppled and vandalized last year, I remained silent. After all, Abraham Lincoln is truly a horrible person, and why in the world would someone not want to spray paint a Martin Luther King Jr. monument? Neither of these particular men did anything to strengthen our nation. Right? Schools were and are still being renamed because there is no reason for a city to be associated with a person like George Washington? And now, a selection of Dr. Seuss’s books are being banned, and I still hesitated to write. I thought about it for a bit, swirling the brilliant words of Rebekah Fitzsimmons, an assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University, around in my mind: “The books we share with our children matter. Books shape their world view and tell them how to relate to the people, places, and ideas around them. As grown-ups, we have to examine the worldview we are creating for our children, including carefully re-examining our favorites.”
And now I must write. First, I have a question, Beka: When you read And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, as a child, did that instill a hatred of Asians or did it only ingrain stereotypes of Asian people in your psyche? I guess in your ivory tower of academia you missed the fact that One Fish, Two Fish is directly teaching children to accept differences in each other. Then again, maybe your childhood bedtime stories were more along the lines of The Communist Manifesto or Mein Kamph. This maybe a unique idea, but why not allow parents to choose what their children read or what they read to their children? Or maybe we, as a people of the United States, could get together and write up a legal document that guarantees our . . . oh yeah, that has already been done.
That being said, I am aware that the family of Dr. Seuss is a part of the decision to remove these books. That is comical within itself. They are self-shaming to appease the crowds. Then there is the irony of all ironies. Deborah Caldwell Stone, who heads the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom . . . yes, you read that correctly . . . Intellectual Freedom . . . argues that the Seuss books are not really being banned. She says that it has more to do with shelf space. I actually laughed out loud. Note: this is THE American Library Association that removed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name in 2018 from a lifetime achievement award because of her portrayal of Native Americans in her Little House On the Prairie novels.
Sure, I could ramble on about The Constitution and freedom and The Republic and the men who have died for our rights as American citizens, but on May 9th, 1933, Helen Keller wrote a letter to the “student body of Germany” that seems to have summed it up nicely:
History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.
You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books for all time to the German soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.
I acknowledge the grievous complications that have led to your intolerance; all the more do I deplore the injustice and unwisdom of passing on to unborn generations the stigma of your deeds.
Do not imagine that your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung around your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.
Many have heard how a frog adapts to the temperature of water. In case you have not, if a frog is placed in boiling water, he will jump out. But if you place the frog in room-temperature water and slowly increase the temperature until boiling, he will stay in the water, adapt to the slow change and eventually die. The temperature in the “melting pot” of the United States has been increasing for a while. Oh, it might stabilize for a moment, but it does not decrease in temperature. Ignoring or dismissing the subtle increases in temperature does not negate its effect. The water will be boiling sooner than we think. Once it begins, it might be too late.