Dr. Seuss’s take on equal rights seen as too political for schools
In recent years BC teachers have struggled to assert their right to free expression in the face of repeated attempts by the employer to limit our critique and silence our voices.
But the decision by a Prince Rupert school district official to ban a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle really takes the cake. The absurdity of the edict has tickled funny bones across the continent, and the story has gone viral in mainstream and social media across North America.
The controversial quote reads:
“I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here on the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
The story began after Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union, tweeted that one of her members had been told by district management that she could be disciplined for having the quote visible on her clothing or in her vehicle when it was parked on school property.
"We feel very censored here right now. We have feelings that our rights to freedom of expression have been violated," Larson said. So far eight teachers have received letters of direction from management about wearing or displaying political messages. The letters said teachers should contact the human resources manager if clarification is needed, and at least one teacher did.
One creative Post-Media reporter wrote an introduction that would likely have made Dr. Seuss himself chuckle: “They cannot, they must not quote Dr. Seuss. Not in the school. Not in the hall. Not in B.C. No, not at all.”
Published in 1958, the eponymous story tells of a feisty little turtle who dares to question the demands of the despotic King Yertle, who wants to see far away from the pond and thereby expand his empire, even beyond the moon. He commands more and more turtles to stack themselves beneath him. Mack, the bottom turtle suffering under the weight of his fellow subjects, asks for mercy but is rudely rebuffed by the arrogant king. Ultimately a burp from Mack topples the whole tower and sends Yertle tumbling into the muddy pond. Dr. Seuss has stated that the story is an allegory in which Yertle’s ambition represents Adolph Hitler and his zeal to take over Europe.
Meanwhile Prince Rupert teachers have been given approval to use a number of other quotations and slogans including “I am free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong,” by former Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.