Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dr. Seuss, Hitler and Human Rights

Many teachers celebrate Dr. Seuss during the week surrounding his birthday- March 2. I am an inner city school librarian working with mostly minority students. Due to my students’ poor test scores regarding nonfiction, I pledged to spend this school year on nonfiction. My middle school students shared with me their excitement about the upcoming Dr. Seuss birthday celebrations. As a librarian, it’s imperative that I collaborate with teachers in order to support what is happening in the classroom, yet I did not want to lose our momentum studying nonfiction. I work to have Holocaust studies a major part of what we learn. How do I celebrate Dr. Seuss, continue our nonfiction studies, and incorporate the Holocaust into one unit?

Fortunately, a year ago, a Cadre colleague, Cathy, shared a great text with me- Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, by Richard H. Minear. I created a lesson plan about political cartoons for high school juniors and seniors. But, middle school?

I began by guiding a student discussion making text-to-text connections with the works of Dr. Seuss that the students are familiar with. I guided the students to seeing the larger themes of his works, such as the equal rights message of The Sneetches and Other Stories. A couple of students were aware of the larger themes for his books, and they enjoyed sharing their knowledge with others. I also shared with them Dr. Seuss’ own brushes with antisemitism. He was German. Due to that and that he had a larger nose, many students at his college thought he was Jewish, and he was not accepted by a group (fraternity) that he wanted to join on campus, so he redirected his interests in to the campus paper.

I asked them what issues were important to Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). The students were impressed that he was addressing equal rights well before the 1960s. We examined his cartoon of a man sitting at an organ while another man watching tells him he has to use the black keys, too. We then moved to the pressing issues of the late 1930s- isolationism and Hitler’s growing power. Students chose one of his political cartoons addressing Hitler/ antisemitism, and wrote a reflection on the cartoon.

The most gratifying comment made in the post discussion was that one can impact many. I was thrilled; teaching our students to want to make a difference is my mission.

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