Today (Tuesday, March 2, 2021) is the 117th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, known throughout the world as "Doctor Seuss." It is also "Read Across America Day," the national celebration of reading launched in 1998 by the National Education Association. The timing is not coincidental: the annual date was chosen to fall on Doctor Seuss's birthday in recognition of his contributions to encouraging all people, especially children, to enjoy reading. On his death in 1991, students at his (and my) alma mater, Dartmouth College, held an outdoor reading of all of his books, in order, in front of Baker Library, throughout the night and into the morning. It was a wonderful tribute.
This year, Doctor Seuss and his works will be conspicuously absent from the national day celebrations he helped inspire. The "good doctor" has been cancelled because of verses and illustrations included in some of his earliest books, written in a different time which now seems like a different world. Viewed through the lens of today's norms, they are not appropriate. But to cancel out his entire body of work, including books so thoughtful and encouraging and amusing and instructive (yes, even in support of themes like tolerance and inclusiveness which everyone values), is at best overkill and at worst a shortsighted and damaging form of censorship.
Three years ago I penned a short article (accessible here) when this issue first arose. The final verses are as relevant today as they were then; perhaps even more so:
What a sad situation: why is it so critical to view every action, each gesture, political?
How did a nation we used to call great become so infected with anger and hate?
We attack institutions we used to admire, drag people we don’t like through mud and through mire.
Assume bad intentions, call each other names like liar and racist, just fanning the flames.
We know in our hearts that this madness must end. What message to children does all of it send?
After all, we’re the adults, the ones who should know:
If we all come together, Oh, the places we’ll go!
Perhaps on this day we can all take a rest. Stop arguing, fighting and beating our breast. For no one is perfect, no nary a one. And everyone's done something they wish they'd not done. To cancel all good on account of some bad, well, it flies against reason, it's terribly sad. To think that our children, and their children too, will never delight in Thing One and Thing Two. Or learn about Horton, who saves the world, "Who." No, let's all stop this rush to the brink, lest we fall. Censoring thought is not good, not at all. Today of all days we should celebrate reading. The brains of our children we ought to be feeding with wonder and words they then can be using to wander new paths and make plans of their choosing. We do them no good to hide the bad things that were done in the past, or the harm that that brings. We owe it to them to be true, and to teach that they, if they wish, have the freedom to reach out and craft a new future all shiny and bright, and make the world better by making things right. So let's focus anew on the good that he wrote, and see that he saw us all in the same boat, hoping somehow we'd see clear to vote in a vote to row all together to keep it afloat. With whimsy and rhyme he did us all lead to enjoyment of books and to learn how to read. So can we all join now together to say, "Well done Doctor Seuss, and Happy Birthday!"