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Dr. Seuss quote too political for B.C. school

The Canadian Press

A quote from a Dr. Seuss book about a turtle trying to assert his rights is too political for students who shouldn't be caught in the middle of the current teachers' dispute, says a school administrator in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Dave Stigant, acting director of instruction for the local school district, said Wednesday he vetoed a quote from Yertle the Turtle when a teacher asked him to look at about 20 quotes to determine if they would be appropriate to expose students to during the ongoing labour dispute.

The quote was: "I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights."

Stigant said he doesn't care if the quote or the whole book is used in a classroom, but it's not OK for teachers to wear political slogans on buttons or T-shirts or display them in their cars on school property.

He said the teacher who asked about the quote wanted to meet with him after she was directed to stop wearing buttons bearing political slogans or having any related placards at school.

"This is simply an attempt to make the district look absurd," Stigant said, calling the Yertle the Turtle issue a red herring.

Stigant said he based his decision on an arbitration award last November, when teachers' rights to freedom of expression were trumped by students' rights to be insulated from political messages.

"What I said was `If you put that quote beside a placard that is objecting to a loss of bargaining rights or some other right it becomes part of that political message.' I never did direct that teacher not to use that quote in her classroom," he said.

"It has nothing to do with Yertle the Turtle. It has to do with the [B.C. Teachers Federation] protesting Bill 22 and undertaking a year of resistance."

Bill 22, which came into effect in March, ended a protracted strike as the government appointed a mediator to work on a new contract with the teachers' union after its members staged a three-day strike following limited job action since last September.
Decision ridiculed

Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert local of the B.C. Teachers Federation, said the district's stance is ridiculous and oppressive.

"It's not even just limiting the teachers' right to freedom of expression," she said. "It limits students' access to the world around them and what's going on in current events. And I think that's the purpose of public school, to educate and use what's happening around them as teachable moments."

But Stigant said if teachers want to talk to students about labour disputes in general as part of a curriculum, that's one thing. To expose their captive audience to their own job issues through discussions, posters or buttons is going too far.

"I would not think it was appropriate for my child to go to an art class and be engaged in instruction and conversation about political rights and disputes and that kind of thing. That's not the teachers' job."

He said messages such as "Negotiate, Don't Legislate," are also too political when they're sprawled on T-shirts worn by teachers, as are messages about 10 years of cuts to school budgets.

Judith Saltman, a University of British Columbia professor who is chairwoman of the of Master of Arts in the children's literature program, said children wouldn't interpret the Yertle the Turtle quote ΓΆ€” or anything similar about equality ΓΆ€” as applying to any specific situation.

"They will see it as something broader, what they see in the playground or at home, which is the difference between what people at the bottom and the top are saying and need," Saltman said, although she refrained from commenting about the teachers' dispute.

She said political messages about rights, which are prevalent in Dr. Seuss books, develop critical thinking skills and children who are exposed to them are better able to discuss social issues.

Last November, an arbitrator denied a grievance by the Cranbrook and Fernie Teachers' Association, saying political messages on teachers' clothing, in classrooms or on school property are political and students should be insulated from them.

Mark Thompson said while the messages in question were worded to influence parents, they were located where students would see them.

Community Reaction to Dr. Seuss quote ban
by Community Team

A quote from the classic Dr. Seuss book Yertle the Turtle has been banished from political buttons, shirts and car bumpers at a B.C. school where labour disputes have been taking place.

"I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights," reads the contentious quote.

According to Prince Rupert school district official Dave Stignant, the quote is only banned for use within a political context. The book itself is still permitted in classrooms

"It has nothing to do with Yertle the Turtle. It has to do with the [B.C. Teachers Federation] protesting Bill 22 and undertaking a year of resistance," he told the Canadian Press.

Stignant said that his decision was based on an arbitrator's ruling last November that put a student's right to learn in an environment free from political messages ahead of a teacher's rights to freedom of expression.

Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert local of the B.C. Teachers Federation, called the action ridiculous and oppressive.

Our community had plenty of thoughts on the issue, commenting in droves on a CBC News story this morning.

"Ah , Dr. Seuss ! One of the original soldiers in the war against absurdity!"-- A Radical

"Stay strong, Yertle.The world is watching." - Summer Wind

Some commenters sided with the school board's decision to ban the quote.

"Teachers have every right to take all the job actions they deem necessary, OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM. Students should never be made pawns in the struggle...." - Just'a thought

"I agree students should be exposed to ideas, but not one-sided ideas--it is difficult to imagine that all teachers would be able to present an issue in which they are involved and believe they are right in a non-biased manner." - Commenter42

Many others took an opposing stance:

"It always amazes me how far the small minds of management will take things in order to remain in control. Do they think children are that stupid that they will believe everything a teacher tells them (or even listen to the teachers)?" - peterb77

"You have get to be kidding.. Why should students be insulated from political slogans , let alone beliefs? Can we get them any further into a bubble?" - shakey1234

And a few community members were even inspired to write Seuss-like poems of their own:

"I do not like The District Man,
I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!"

- Schwarz

"Meecher the teacher had oodles of books
Books about crimberles and shiminny-schnooks
Books by dead scientists like Everard Phowz
Who believed that we humans descended from cows

Books about people that lived far away,
In countries called Whrrrithxstan and Karmic Kathay
Books about triangles, circles and squares,
Books that told stories of three little bears.

Meacher the teacher got into a fight
With a brigand named Stigant who wanted her right
To reach for a book to read to her class
To be subject to his right to give it a pass.

"Yertel the turtle is not on the list,
And Oliver Twist is one to be missed,
A tale of a poor kid who dared ask for more?
Will lead us to socialism, that is for sure"

"No tales of injustice will be read in this school,
No tales of authority acting too cruel.
No stories of children who want to be brave,
Just stories of children who like to behave."

"Harry Potter has teachers who join evil instead,
And Carroll has monarchs shout 'off with her head!'
Dickens is barred, and Orwell is banned
Children need books that are happy and bland."

Yertel the Turtle - such dissident thoughts
of standing for rights - what societal rot!
If we permit reading each book on the wall,
Civilization we'll see most assuredly fall.

So Meacher the teacher, go find 'Dick and Jane'
Read useful books once and then read them again,
We just need the 3 R's being taught in the schools,
Critical thought is a skill that is only for fools."

— Staff and Community
CBC News





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