In March, Dr. Seuss Enterprises decided to stop publishing six of the author’s children’s books due to racist and xenophobic tropes embedded in his stories. For example, the book And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street includes stereotyped caricatures of Asian characters with bowls of rice wearing conical hats and references “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” and “a Chinese man who eats with sticks.” In the book If I Ran the Zoo, two men said to be from Africa are shown shirtless, shoeless, and wearing grass skirts as they carry an exotic animal. Outside of his books, Seuss wrote an entire minstrel show in high school and performed as the main character in full blackface.
In many schools and libraries, especially during Read Across America Week this year, the tension between “canceling” Dr. Seuss and celebrating his iconic books as emblematic to American childhood ran hot. Shipley eighth graders took a close look at this issue in conjunction with their English unit on censorship in Fahrenheit 451. They were asked: Do you think Dr. Seuss’ book should be banned from classrooms and libraries?
In my opinion, I think that yes, some books should be censored from children. I think that radical books that encourage racism, anti-semitism, etc. should be censored because young children do not need exposure to that, and I don’t really think anyone does. Now, I do believe that books that just contain certain words should not be censored; for example, Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead, you should of course not say out loud the derogatory words within the books under any circumstances, but discuss the pain in those words. We should teach children what certain words mean in historical context. I think by the time you are 14-16 you should be allowed to read any book since you are supposed to form your own opinion and should have learned by then what's right and wrong.
Overall, I am kind of in the middle of supporting minor restrictions while agreeing that
children should be exposed to controversial themes. I think this because learning about these
issues would give children an opportunity to form their own opinions and learn more about
themselves. Although I do think that books extremely heavy in explicit themes should be restricted, learning about the reality of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. is important. If children can learn that these harmful beliefs are invalid and dangerous from a young
age, they will be much less likely to support it.
I believe that there should be an appropriate amount of censorship over books. If a book is extremely hurtful to a group of children and can have extremely negative effects on their development and thought processes, then it should not be read. I am conflicted, though, because I know that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are important things to honor. I would hope that the adults around children are responsible enough to know and understand that their child should not be reading something harmful to them. I think that if books were to be censored that they should not be totally taken off of shelves and impossible to find, but have an age restriction on them. Like how movies are rated by the MPAA, the government might consider having a system like that for books instead of just banning the books altogether. In terms of Dr. Seuss, I think that his books should be available to all ages, but children should be told when there is something that is bad in them.
I don’t think that books should be restricted because kids need to read. Kids spend a lot of time on their phones and other screens, so banning all controversial books only narrows their selection down to fewer books. If you think about it, there’s at least something that could be considered “controversial” in every book, some more than others, so if every book was restricted or frowned upon, no one would want to read. Perhaps there could be warning labels on the front of the book if it contains racist or biased content. Regulating books also depends on the kids’ age. If they are little kids, like four of five, they aren’t going to notice some of the racist images in Dr. Seuss—I know I didn’t. But if the kid is older, like eight or nine, they are old enough to be taught that the content in those books is not okay. Some disputed books, like To Kill A Mockingbird, are a part of our history and should be taught in schools because, even though the past isn’t great, society shouldn’t try and cover it up or erase it because, as Winston Churchill said, “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”