It seems there is concern that Yertle is planting the seeds of uprising and rebellion in the innocent young minds of school children. Interesting, when one considers the current push -- at least in our province -- to look at the curriculum through a critical lens, and to infuse issues of social justice into our school and classroom programme!
Just this past week, my colleague and I have been working -- at the request of school and board program staff -- on revising our curriculum map for the coming year to integrate the big ideas from our grade's Social Studies and Science curriculums... ideas of equity, citizenship and environmental stewardship!
As teachers, we are encouraged to help students unpack the curriculum through a social-political lens, considering multiple viewpoints, disrupting the commonplace, and empowering even our youngest learners with calls to action.
How, then, can we be surprised if students ask hard questions about an opressed turtle?!
“I know up on top you are seeing great sights,
but down here on the bottom, we too
should have rights”,
quips Yertle, in a developmentally-appropriate lament about being stacked, in typical Seuss-like fashion, under an enormous pile of bigger and heavier oppressors. The story is a silly tale about make-believe turtles, but the implied message is deep, and the author is a skilled craftsman in his clever spinning of an important social lesson about standing up for one's rights, no matter where in the grander scheme of things you happen to be squished in!
I am reminded of the letter I recently recieved from a parent; she was upset about a picture book I had read aloud to my grade threes, a sweet tale of love and family, based on a true story of two penguins at the New York Zoo who were unable to have an egg of their own, until an observant and caring zookeeper came to their rescue.
And Tango Makes Three -- like Seuss's Yertle, is a story about animals, but the subtle themes of caring and inclusion are ones that children hopefully pick up on and integrate into the fabric of their being. (Does it matter that the two penguins in question were both male? Is a book clearly written for children intended to teach "about homosexuality", as was this parent's concern, or was the author hoping for a more subtle message to be transmitted to young readers: "There's diversity in the world, and maybe that's okay"!)
One thing is certain: It's going to be an interesting road ahead...
As we wade knee-deep into the mire of "social justice", and attempt to intentionaly and courageously make this theme more overt in our classrooms, we had better, as educators, know ourselves, know our allies, and be prepared to practise what we preach in encouraging our students to look at issues from multiple perspectives and with a view to political action.
Of Yertle, the BC arbitrator's ruling that "political materials must be kept out of . classrooms" is going to have trouble taking root in classrooms that are -- in their quest to keep up with 21 century skills instruction -- increasingly political! Perhaps the focus ought to be not on keeping the classroom sanitized, but rather, on equipping ourselves and our students with manners and the habits of mind that will allow us and them to navigate our increasingly complex world in a polite, respectful, open-minded manner.
Kind of like Yertle.