Best of 2012: Banned Books Awareness: “Yertle the Turtle”

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\"\"For the third time in recent weeks the Banned Books Awareness series once again focuses on some rather disturbing trends from Canada. Incidents of censorship by the border patrol, negative reactions to fiction based on historical documents, and now it seems Dr. Seuss has been branded too political for the classroom.

Yertle the Turtle (1958) is one of six- yes, six- beloved Dr. Seuss titles that have repeatedly faced the ire of censors for various reasons; now a teacher at an elementary school in northern British Columbia has been told that a quote from the classic work has been deemed “too political” and the quote is no longer allowed to be displayed, or worn on clothing.

So, what is the offensive line that has school administrators in an uproar? Yertle, one of three stories in the book, deals with the king of a pond who stacks himself on top of other turtles in order to reach the moon, and yells at them when they complain. The line in question is: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”

Administrators were quick to try to save face by denying that the book itself has been banned, just the quote; but since the book contains the offending line, out the book must go. Yeah, that makes sense.

The teacher had the quote amid other material she brought to a meeting with management after receiving a notice relating to union material that was visible in her car on school property.

Dave Stigant, acting director of instruction for the Prince Rupert School District, said that the school based its decision on an arbitrator’s ruling in 2011 that political materials must be kept out of British Columbia classrooms. He met with the teacher to discuss what is and is not considered in keeping with district standards.

Stigant conceded Tuesday that it might seem absurd to spend time reviewing quotes from Dr. Seuss, and even former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, but said the review is necessary to protect students from an often-bitter dispute.

“It’s a good use of my time if it serves the purpose of shielding the children from political messaging,” Stigant said. “I don’t consider it taking a stand on the dispute. It’s a matter of legality and living up to our obligation to children and their families.”

The decision is the latest at the center of a labor dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the province.

“I responded that in the context, it was borderline,” Stigant said. “Contextually, it was political- but it was grey and I would prefer it didn’t appear and I believe she agreed.”

Stigant claimed that he didn’t know the source of the quote when he met with the teacher; on Monday afternoon (4/23/12), Joanna Larson, president of the BCTF local in Prince Rupert, posted on Twitter that “Teachers in Prince Rupert, BC could face discipline for displaying Dr. Seuss quote. Management \”must insulate students from political messages.”

To say that relations between teachers and management in the district are strained would be an understatement. Teachers from the district filed more than 100 grievances in 2011, a record for the province, according to the BCTF.

The district has sent about a dozen notices to teachers regarding the wearing of pins or displaying quotes since the union went on strike last year. In the first phase of their strike, which began in September, teachers withdrew some services, such as supervision and preparing report cards, which led to a three-day legal walkout in March.

Bill 22, new education legislation that came into effect last month, ended the strike and brought in a mediator. Under the bill, the mediator is required to maintain the government’s “net-zero” mandate, which stipulates that new contracts can’t cost any more money than collective agreements they replace.

Since the bill was passed, the union and the government have clashed over the mediator selected by the province and report cards. This month, BCTF members voted in favor of a province-wide withdrawal of voluntary, extracurricular activities in protest against Bill 22.

Teachers and the government are at odds over issues including wages, classroom conditions, and the province’s response to a court ruling last year that found previous education legislation was unconstitutional.

Dr. Seuss, otherwise known as Theodor Geisel, started his career as a political cartoonist. He once stated the character of Yertle was modeled after Hitler and an allegory for authoritarianism.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, themarysue.com, The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, MSN
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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