sneetches beach

Planet Money: Who Teaches the Sneetches Gets Torn to Pieces

So I listen to a podcast called “Planet Money“. They do bite-sized explanations of concepts and current events in the world of economics. This week they did a special about economic concepts in children’s books (transcript), like Frog and Toad’s “Cookies” for credible commitment and “Put Me In the Zoo” for labor mismatch. And to do this, they visited a third-grade class in the Olentangy school district near Columbus, Ohio, and read some of these stories allowed.

That’s where it went wrong.

Because they had this Dolores Umbridge mother fucker named Amanda Beeman, a “communications person from the district“. She sat in with them and monitored the books they read. The district sent an email beforehand requesting they avoid politics or anything with political undertones. Planet Money sent the district a list of the books they were going to read, giving them a chance to make any dissents.

So in the middle of the last book–Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches–(truly a classic), this communications person stands up and says “I don’t know if I feel comfortable with this book being one of the ones featured. I just feel like this isn’t teaching anything about economics, and this is a little bit more about differences with race and everything like that. So do you mind, Mrs. Robek, if we pause this book.”

First of all, what weasel words. “I want to pause this book.” Pause means you eventually start it back up again.

Second, why did you allow the book to go on for as long as you did? You know The Sneetches. Everyone knows The Sneetches. They have stars upon thars. If you’re an elementary educator you damn well know about The Sneetches. You’ve read the book so you know the story so you know what’s going to happen. Why did you make such an obvious display of power and censorship by interrupting the book midway through? (At the part where Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers up his star-branding machine.)

Image of Olentangy students being sucked into the indoctrination machine

“I just don’t think it might be appropriate for the third-grade class and for them to have a discussion around it. Are you OK with that?”

More weasel words. Bitch, if I was in that classroom, I would have been like “No, I am not okay with that. I am not okay with you blacklisting a classic children’s book in real-time in the middle of a classroom. You didn’t want to get political, you just got political by flexing your muscles.” You’re a communications director, since when are you in charge of what is and isn’t appropriate to teach the children, especially when it comes to race? Are you worried the kids are going to learn about CRT? (which is not a thing — CRT is not taught in anything but college-level courses and only as a part of law curriculum).

“I just don’t think that this is going to be the discussion that we wanted to around economics. So I’m sorry. We’re going to cut this one off. So is there anything else that we can pivot to?”

Everyone in the room is just sort of stunned at this point, both teachers and students. Beeman tries to address the elephant in the room to the kids who are clearly uncomfortable and confused. It feels like Mommy and Daddy got in a fight, but everyone’s being eerily civil.

BEEMAN: Sometimes, when you don’t feel comfortable, you got something in your belly, you got to just speak up about it, right?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: I don’t even know what happens in the story.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: Yeah, me neither.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: Like, I want to read it – haven’t ever read that.
BEEMAN: You know what? I think that’s one that maybe we can ask, you know, with our parents at home.

What a fucking tool. Ask your parents at home, just don’t put any of the responsibility on us. We wouldn’t want people to think that the school is teaching, I don’t know, ideas.

Now she might have been acting under orders from some superior to stop anything political being discussed and erred on the side of caution. But in a way, that’s worse. How many Nazi bureaucrats and collaborators used the excuse “I was just following orders.

The Planet Money reporter did send a follow-up email, asking what happened. The most useful thing they replied with was “school districts across the nation are being scrutinized for book selections in our schools on both sides of the spectrum”. Well, what the fuck does that mean? More weasel words, passing the buck. Scrutinized in what way? Are you afraid the kids are going to actually learn something useful? Are you so fucking sensitive to the slightest peep from a moron parent that you aren’t willing to do the hard work of educating kids?

Amanda Beeman also answered back: “when the book began addressing racism, segregation and discriminating behaviors, this was not the conversation we had prepared Mrs. Robek, the students or parents would take place. There may be some very important economics lessons in The Sneetches, but I did not feel that those lessons were the themes students were going to grasp at that point in the day or in the book.” I read the transcript of the podcast–anything the kids interpreted that connected the story with race instead of economics came from them, not the teachers. That’s the wonderful thing about books, especially Dr. Seuss books, they can be about more than one thing.

Friends, this is political censorship in the worst way. When someone challenges a book they impede free expression rights and children get the notion that they are not being raised in an open, democratic society. It breaks the community of trust a school should foster. The district’s tagline, as specified on Amanda Beeman’s LinkedIn profile is “Focused on storytelling that reflects who we are, what we believe and how we achieve success.” How can they make that claim when they prevent storytelling in the first place?

And you don’t mess with my Dr. Seuss. His work is going to continue into immortality with the way he taught adult concepts in kid form. The Lorax, The Bitter Butter Battle, The Zax, Horton Hears a Who. People will stop talking about Dr. Seuss long before they stop talking about Amanda Beeman and the Olentangy school district.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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