Well, this is interesting, and likely to ruffle a few feathers. Sometimes some feather-ruffling is necessary, though.

This year, Read Across America Day was preceded by the publication of a new study. Researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens examined 50 children’s books and 2,200 characters created over Theodore Seuss Geisel’s nearly 70-year career “to evaluate the claims that his children’s books are anti-racist.” Their findings were shocking.

I get it. You grew up on Dr. Seuss. I did too! It’s probably safe to assume that most people did and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But we have to recognize that two things can be true at the same time:

Dr. Seuss is a prolific children’s book author and global icon. And Dr. Seuss has a history of racial baggage that educators should understand when introducing his writing to their students.

I haven’t yet read the study discussed here (though I’ve downloaded it, and hope to find time to get to it before too long), but essentially, as good as Seuss’s work is, there are endemic problematic elements throughout his career. This isn’t presented as a condemnation, or a call to remove his work from our individual or collective libraries and consciousness, but rather to thoughtfully address those elements.

(Once again, I’ll point to “How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things”.)

An excellent example of what educators should do can be found in NEA and Read Across America Day’s response to this subject. When presented with this research from Ishikuza and Stephens, they made a choice to shift the focus of Read Across America Day from Dr. Seuss and his works to the diverse voices and experiences that help create America’s diverse democracy. You, too, can choose to bring a microphone to those voices that have historically been undermined and unheard.

Another thing you can do is actually read the report and research the claims yourself, with colleagues or students, and put them to the test as a community. Not only is the report informative about the text it studies; it also might expose you to blind spots you may not realize you have in regard to what voices you give power to in your practice and in the books you share with students.

As with any critical conversation, accept that there may not be a neat and clean conclusion. Critical conversations can range from illuminating and informative to a little tense and even upsetting. They can be difficult, but being prepared for them by doing this work internally before you bring it to your community of colleagues and learners will ensure you’re ready for wherever the conversation takes you.

You don’t have to burn your favorite Thing One shirt or get rid of all of your Dr. Seuss books or cut Green Eggs and Ham from your diet (unless you just really want to). However, we all need to be willing to explore the things that shape the young minds of our students—and be willing to change our own minds when presented with new truths, even if they might not always be comfortable to process.

Sometime between January 17th and February 26th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

1/31/2020 Update: I originally found the text I used as the basis of this post unattributed. As it turns out, the original is by Lori Gallagher Witt, posted to Facebook on Jan. 7, 2018 and going viral after that. The version posted here differs somewhat from hers, having passed through an unknown number of hands before reaching me, and having been subjected to my edits from the version I found. Thanks to Snopes for noting the original source.

An open letter to those who don’t know me yet, or have just met me recently enough that my not-at-all-closeted political leanings have not yet become blindingly obvious:

I’m a liberal, and a pretty far left-leaning liberal at that. To many, that means I’m one of those bleeding heart commies who hates anyone who’s white, straight, or conservative, and who wants the government to dictate everything you do while taking your money and giving it to people who don’t work.

Well, not exactly, but close enough.

Let’s break it down, shall we? Because quite frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines:

  1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.

  2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.

  3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.

  4. I have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. I’m not opposed to the idea of Universal Basic Income, even if that means my taxes go towards allowing some people to survive without having to work. I don’t believe that people deserve to die because they cannot work, for whatever reason that may be; I don’t even believe that people deserve to die because they choose not to work. If that brands me a communist, socialist, or whatever -ist is being used as a slur because I think it’s better that people be alive than dead, then so be it.

  5. I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. I’m neither rich nor poor, far more likely to end up being the latter than the former, but I still pay taxes. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it’s because I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.

  6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.

  7. I am not anti-Christian; I grew up in the Episcopal church, and what I learned there heavily influences who I am today, even if I rarely attend church. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; compulsory prayer in school is – and should be – illegal). All I ask is that Christians recognize my right to live according to my beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I’m not “offended by Christianity” — I’m offended that you’re trying to force me to live by your religion’s rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you? That’s how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don’t force it on me.

  8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the same rights as you.

  9. I don’t believe undocumented immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT HAPPENS (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who have committed some types of crimes, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).

  10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.

  11. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things here are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.

  12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society (along with many bigotries — xenophobia, homophobia, sizeism, transphobia, ageism, classism, etc. — that may be less overtly systemic but which are just as present) is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized. And yes, as a person with many privileges on my side (straight, white, male, middle-class, and many more), this includes me. I do my best to listen to and learn from those with less privilege when they try to tell me something. I have and will fail at times, and when I do, I’ll do what I can to do better.

  13. I am not interested in coming after your blessed guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, including background checks, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun.

  14. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness — or, well, “not being an asshole”. If call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person?

  15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.

  16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?

I think that about covers the basics, though I’m sure there are many more points that could be added. Bottom line is that I’m a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don’t believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.

So, I’m a liberal.

(I didn’t write the above from scratch but edited a similar post to reflect my personal beliefs. Please feel free to do the same with this post.)

Sometime between June 25th and July 16th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Filed under “yes, even I can have unpopular opinions”: I’m very concerned about where the money to fund I-1351’s directives is going to come from. We live in a state where voters refuse to put money into the system (we couldn’t even pass a minuscule sales tax on candy bars and soda to fund various services), but demand that the system provide services that cost money. This is going to cost billions in hiring teachers, constructing classrooms, and lots of other associated costs, and we have no idea where that money is going to come from (but we’re by-golly determined not to pay for it ourselves!).

And according to this article (by fivethirtyeight, which started as a political statistical analysis site and has branched out into applying statistical analyses to all sorts of other things), it’s really not even clear that smaller class sizes will make that much of a difference compared to other possible expenditures such as hiring/training better teachers, giving raises, or putting money into new/better texts, supplies, and technology.

Class-size reductions make sense intuitively — in smaller classes, kids get more attention, distractions are reduced and working conditions are improved. Many economists and education policy experts say, though, that this isn’t a case where the common-sense fix is guaranteed to be the best fix. Many of the studies on class size are inconclusive, and even those who support cutting class size in theory are dubious about whether I-1351 is the best or most cost-effective way to improve public education in Washington.

[…] Attempts to implement large-scale class-reduction policies have yielded less encouraging results. In 2002, Florida voters approved a ballot initiative like I-1351 that amended the state constitution to include caps on class sizes in all grades. An analysis of data from Florida conducted by Matt Chingos, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Education Policy found no differences between students who were new to a small classroom and those who had already been in one.

[…] “Reducing class size is one of the most expensive things you can do in education,” Chingos said. “Even if it does have a substantial positive effect, it still might not be the best use of limited resources.” He said that in some cases, raising teacher salaries could be a more effective use of funds. “Really the lesson is that you want to build in flexibility,” he said. “Different school districts have different needs. It’s very far from one-size-fits-all.”

Eric Hanushek, an economist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said that I-1351 could have the unintended effect of reducing teacher quality. “This isn’t about hiring high-quality teachers, it’s about hiring more teachers, and that means we’re going to see a lot more inexperienced teachers in the classroom,” he said.

Some education advocates in Washington state are concerned that the class-size mandate will siphon funds from other policies. […] Practically speaking, the state government has only so much money to spend. I-1351’s biggest flaw might be its failure to acknowledge this reality.

At this point, I (and many other people I talk to in higher education) are very worried that without a funding source, the state is going to end up pulling even more money out of the already hard-hit higher education system, damaging it further in the name of improving the K-12 education system.

Everyone agrees that better education — across the board — is important. But, jeez. It’s not magic. There needs to be a way to pay for it.

From Yeah, Sure, We’re Underinvesting in Education, but Hey Look… Squirrel! | Slog:

Look… squirrel!

That’s pretty much the level of discourse we’ve been having over education funding in Washington state, the kind that’s designed to keep our eyes off the ball by assuming that voters have an attention span shorter than that of the average dog. Another $1.4 billion slashed from K-12 education, about $1,400 per student? Squirrel! 3,700 fewer teachers funded in WA’s public schools? Squirrel! A more than 50 percent reduction in higher education spending over the past two budgets? Squirrel!

From Why Not Just Privatize Higher Education? | Slog:

Some of the biggest losers in yesterday’s state House budget proposal are our state’s public colleges and universities… or I guess, more accurately, their current and future students.

The House would slash another $482 million from higher education spending, $100 million more than the governor’s already brutal proposal, amounting to a more than 50 percent cut over two biennia. Even after tuition hikes of between 11.5 and 13 percent, our two-year and four-year institutions would still have to cut as much as 5.4 percent from their budgets. Students will be paying more and getting less.

As a percentage of our state economy, higher education spending had already dropped 63.7 percent from a high of $15.53 per $1,000 of personal income in 1974 to $5.48 per $1,000 in 2010. And falling. Dollars speak louder than words, and clearly, as a state, we obviously no longer believe that providing affordable access to a quality college education is all that important anymore.

Although, to be fair, as sad and scary as this is (especially as someone who’s partner is employed by a state university — and, for that matter, I am too, at least for this quarter), thanks to the stupid voters (and the even stupider eligible voters who decline to do so) who refuse to pay an extra penny or two on candy bars and soda because of the big scary three-letter-word “TAX” (and that’s just one example of the stupid, greedy, short-sighted results of recent state votes), the state just doesn’t have as much money as it should. The way things have been going, I’m still not convinced that education would be getting funded as it should even if the state was flush with cash…but I do realize that the current budget crunch isn’t helping matters any.

When will people wake up and realize that education is important, public services are important, and we have to pay for them? The money to run these things doesn’t just magically appear. I don’t particularly care if you whine about paying taxes, really — sure, we all would like to have a little more money in our pockets than we do. But when your distaste becomes outright refusal (through ill-conceived ballot initiatives) to pay into the services that support and benefit everyone in this state, in both the short- and long-term, then I have no use for you — especially when you then turn around and bitch and moan that this country isn’t as great as it could be, should be, or used to be. Your greed is a large part of the reason for that.

I’m a case study in a textbook — and, contrary to what might be believed, it’s not a psychological textbook. Rather, it’s the latest repercussion from my fifteen minutes of fame way back when.

Case Study

From Canadian textbook Business Technology Today, whose authors were kind enough to send me a copy after getting permission to quote me in their text. Thanks!