Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Childhoods attacked by cancel culture

By Alexa Dumas

The newly elected Biden administration feels like a fresh start to some, while others fear the change in power will do more harm than good. Biden’s approval rating is seen at 53.6%, while his disapproval rate is at 40.3%, as of March 17. In 2021’s emergence, not only has new government representation been put into place, but aspects of American childhood have been recently examined.

Most children grew up reading books by Theodore Giesel, better known as Dr. Seuss, in their homes, elementary schools or even at their local libraries. Seuss’ rhyme scheme, colorful scenery and odd-looking characters are a staple of growing up in the United States.

Recently, six of his books have been under review by Dr. Seuss Enterprises and publishing was stopped as of March 2, due to racial stereotypes.

The six books that will be discontinued are “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!,” “The Cat’s Quizzer,” “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo.”

Elaine Ostry, associate professor of English, teaches a course on children’s literature. She stated that “older children and teenagers have a better understanding of historical context when it comes to stereotyping in literature, while younger children may have a harder time understanding.”

“When you’re thinking about young children, you have to be very careful with what kinds of images they see and what kind of messages they receive,” Ostry said. “We have to come to a point in society where we understand that not everything that we grew up with was great.”

Not only is the text important, but the illustrations that children see are as well. Books such as Seuss’ 1937 work “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” paint a harmful image of the Asian culture. The illustration depicts “a Chinese man who eats with sticks,” as stated in the children’s book, while the man has yellow skin and is eating a bowl of rice with chopsticks.

Publishing companies can edit, update and remove illustrations that may be offensive.

“You can edit children’s books,” Ostry said. “You can update them, edit them. I wouldn’t do this for older readers because I think an older reader can understand when something is part of a historical period that has different attitudes. It’s much more likely that they have a context for these things.”

Educators may have a different approach to the books as well. Junior general and special childhood education major Kristen Kavanagh believes classroom teachers should still use the Seuss books as a learning tool for young students.

“If kids were to be looking through it on their own, I think they would kind of be learning inappropriate things, because they might not understand that it is inappropriate today,” Kavanagh said. “So if a teacher is walking them through it, it’s kind of that teachable moment. If they’re reading the book— say this was back then. That’s what was accepted. Now it’s not.”

Some conservatives, such as the U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have turned to social media to claim that he still liked Dr. Seuss after the decision was made to stop publishing the books. This was seen as a stab toward his liberal constituents who agree with Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ statement.

“Dr. Seuss is not canceled,” Kavanagh said. “You can still celebrate the books that he’s written as an author without saying that. I’m kind of upset that people are relating it to cancel culture. I feel like it almost is making a media spectacle out of it, where they’re making the focus him being canceled rather than talking about why the books are no longer being published.”

The Dr. Seuss books are not the only aspect of American childhood that is feeding into the trend of “cancel culture.” Hasbro, the popular toy company, issued a statement Feb. 25 that it will no longer be calling the Potato Head toy line “Mr.” and “Mrs.” This decision was to allow for more gender-neutral toys for children of all ages.

“I think that it is important to move away from thinking about gender as a binary system, one in which there’s only a male and female gender, and move towards one in which understands gender identity as a spectrum,” Kolleen Duley, assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, said.

Toys like the newly rebranded Potato Head can allow for children to become more comfortable with themselves and conform less to what a more conservative society views in the case of gender.

Duley stated that, “The more that we allow children to be their authentic selves and the more options we give them outside of this rigid binary, the more they can be free to accept who they are.”

The largest way to empower society to change is education, and the best way to start is with the younger generation.

“I think that the more early education we can give children, allows them to view not only their toys but themselves as not exclusively assigned to the gender they were born with,” Duley said. “The better positioned we are to build a diverse and inclusive future for all of us.”

Not only can children start to express themselves and accept who they are, but they also must see themselves represented in the toys they play with and the books they read.

“Books are mirrors for children; they’re windows for them,” Kavanagh said. “They can see themselves in books, and they should see themselves or learn about other cultures. Maybe we can rewrite the Seuss books, or get different illustrations in them, and change them to make it more modern and more reflecting of what society looks like today.”

Learning and growing from the past and rebranding to become more inclusive shouldn’t be “canceled.” These new values that children’s companies are making will create a more diverse and self-expressive environment for new generations to grow up in.

Children should feel represented, and it should start with a book just like “The Cat in the Hat.”

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