A school librarian in Massachusetts is catching some heat after refusing to accept Melania Trump’s donation of a bunch of Dr. Seuss books, arguing that not only do her students not need them, but maybe Melania could have picked out something a little less hackneyed and steeped in racism, hmm?
A statement from the White House explained that the donations were made as part of “National Read a Book Day,” and that recipients were selected on the basis of “high standards of excellence.” Because as everyone knows, wealthy, high-performing schools are always the ones in need of more resources! It’s the ethos of the conservative dream in a “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” nutshell.
But Liz Phipps Soeiro, the librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School in Cambridge, wasn’t especially interested in Trump’s half-baked gesture. In an open letter posted to her blog, Soeiro was like “nah”:
My students were interested in reading your enclosed letter and impressed with the beautiful bookplates with your name and the indelible White House stamp, however, we will not be keeping the titles for our collection. I’d like to respectfully offer my explanation.
She added that her school is lucky enough to have “plenty of resources,” though it still faces struggles that a stack of Dr. Seuss books—even with Melania’s bookplates—can’t fix, like retaining teachers of color and “dismantling systemic white supremacy in our institution.”
Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school “choice” with no interest in outcomes of children, their families, their teachers, and their schools. Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? Why not reflect on those “high standards of excellence” beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.
Soeiro concludes the letter by noting what a “cliché” selection Dr. Seuss is, and that moreover, his illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”
The last point is what triggered the ire of Dr. Seuss fans, many of whom happily pointed out that Michelle Obama seemed to endorse the author when she read his works to kids in the White House back in 2015. The same year, President Barack Obama also described himself as a “still a big Dr. Seuss fan.”
It’s true that Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Geisel, is responsible for some pretty troubling illustrations, but it’s too bad that Soeiro’s more cohesive point got muddied by her charge against a beloved—if controversial—children’s author. That discussion belongs in a more thoroughly-argued piece of its own, not shoddily appended to an otherwise strong argument about the usefulness of dumping more resources on an institution that tests well because it’s already got plenty.
Luckily, Melania won’t be dissuaded from rescuing the nation’s wealthy youth one book at a time, said East Wing communications director Stephanie Grisham.
“To turn the gesture of sending young students some books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the first lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere,” she said.