It’s better to learn how to learn than to know.
I am currently reading master biographer Brian Jay Jones’s brand spanking new ode to literary behemoth, Dr. Seuss. Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination has compelled me reflect, on more than one occasion, on the many connections to Geisel’s personal story and those that intersection with my values as an educator in the twenty-first century.
But…it was not without a great deal of pause.
In Becoming, Jones reveals that without any attempt at apology, much of Geisel’s early editorial cartoons and advertisements were misogynistic, racist, and by today’s standards, ethically-skewed. Reading of the story lead through several uneasy times when, yes, the man who invented such memorable characters like the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax and the Grinch also used the derogatory term for African Americans frequently in his work. The context of Dr. Seuss’s early art and writings (circa 1930s & 1940) was a different time with a very different social milieu and undercurrent. Still, I found the warm image of the creator of my most memorable Seussian books like The Sneetches, Horton Hears A Who!, and Green Eggs and Ham was the same fabricator cartoons featuring stereotypical cuckolded husbands and overbearing house wives.
But what probably intrigues me most about Geisel wasn’t his creative stories or the immense influence that his work has had on western culture (and on my own love of literature and poetry) was the schism that developed between Dr. Seuss, the artist, and Theodor Geisel, the man. It was of immense interest to note that Geisel, the chain-smoking, cocktail-swilling, childless artist who admitted that couldn’t really draw, never took a formal art class, actually thought that animating children’s books was the lowest of the low for an artist, his first book was rejected nearly thirty times, and that his first wife, Helen, was a massive supporter of his plunge into the world of children’s books. It would appear as though Geisel would create and innovated on his own terms; a desire to do things his way.
Following your passion, what you love to do, and make a living doing it. Even after the success his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Geisel followed up with a succession of four flops before a publishing company recognized the truly unique style of Dr. Seuss. More to the point, after acknowledging his own has knack and talent for writing kids books, Geisel would forever agonize over the prose, colour palettes, and character lines of all of his works. Perfectionism.
But without question, the strongest connection that I made with the man who penned both mine and my daughter’s–we will read this one all year round in our home–all-time favourite book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, was Geisel’s public admonition that he placed the utmost importance of taking children (his audience) seriously. Taking students seriously has become a hallmark that helps to define my intentions and approach in the classroom.
In fact, I wonder that if more educators began to regard each learner before them with the same sense of Seussian seriousness (and ultimately, respect) might our approaches to classroom dynamics, teacher responses to students struggling with behaviour, and how the education system supports all of its learners look vastly different. I wonder if our teacher-student relationships would further evolve. I wonder if heart-led teaching becomes the new world order. I wonder if vulnerability and courage become the goals in our relationships within our school.