Ellwyn’s Blog

Should We Still Read Dr. Seuss Books?

Should we still read Dr. Seuss books to our children or not? Recently for me that’s become a loaded question. Do we want to perpetuate the underlying messages woven into his books by reading them and carry on the imaginative spirit his work inspires; the fun and frivolity with words that parents, teachers, and students have taken to heart? Or do we dismiss his work, banning it from classrooms and libraries, because of his political views during a turbulent time in American history, when certain stereotypes among white Americans were the norm?

            Since the refusal of the school librarian in Boston, of Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books, I have felt it necessary to do some additional research on the prolific author. Some of my findings surprised me while others saddened me. As part of an author study, I have done superficial research of him in the past to provide a brief overview of his life to my students. I had never read that he was a racist so I was taken back when I heard about the Boston librarian’s statement. I kept thinking how could one of the most beloved children’s authors be a racist?

Like many children, my own grew up on Dr. Seuss books. Green Eggs and Hamwas my son’s absolute favorite book and the first one he read by himself in Kindergarten; one of the proudest moments of my life. I can still see him as a toddler sitting on his bedroom floor, pulling his Dr. Seuss books off of his shelf and carefully turning the pages.

            Theodor Seuss Gesiel (Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg, Rosetta Stone, Theophrastus Seuss) was an American author, political cartoonist, poet, artist, and publisher born on March 2, 1904. He died on September 24, 1991 at the age of 87.

He attended Dartmouth College and the University of Oxford where he assumed the pen name Dr. Seuss. After leaving Oxford, he began working for several different publications as a cartoonist and illustrator. He also worked on advertising campaigns for Flit and Standard Oil and as a political cartoonist for PM, a left-wing New York newspaper. It seems that some of his views were in direct conflict with each other. He supported the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, while frowning upon anti-Semitism and the treatment of blacks in the U.S. at the same time, which is also at odds, because of his portrayal of black people as savages, wearing grass skirts, in the Flit advertisements. Could he in his white-privileged ignorance have thought that these advertisements were innocuous?

As I processed this newfound information I realized that, while it is upsetting to know that Dr. Seuss held unctuous opinions, he was a product of his generation. In the Pre-Civil Rights Era racial relations were quite different, nonwhites were shunned and segregated from mainstream society. A sad truth that is part of our American history. In the 1940s, after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, emotions and fears were running high, the mob mentality ruled. We have witnessed this phenomenon ourselves with the mistreatment of Muslim Americans after the 9/11 attack.

Unfortunately among white Americans, Dr. Seuss’s art form was accepted as the norm. Today, where most people have grown up in a more racially equitable society, they would criticize his political and advertising artwork and it would be rightly shunned. Dr. Seuss himself would agree with this consensus.

Although some of Dr. Seuss’s work was controversial not all of it was negative. He did make some positive political statements in his writings that promoted diversity and cultural responsibility as well. Horton Hears A Who, a story about democracy, isolationism, and America’s postwar occupation of Japan was dedicated to Mitsugi Nakamura, a Japanese man who Dr. Seuss named, ‘my great friend.’ The Sneetches had its roots in his opposition to anti-Semitism, The Lorax was a parable about the environment, and The Butler Battle Book took aim at the arms race.

Like all of us, Dr. Seuss was a human being with flawed opinions. Fortunately, he realized his small-minded prejudice towards those who were different from him and changed tack. He evolved into a more accepting person that was later reflected in his work. Should we judge a man so harshly for a belief system that he was brought up in, when he had the cognizance to recognize its failures and change himself? Could we not use his life lesson as a teachable moment about personal and societal growth?

So, should we still read Dr. Seuss’s books to our children or not? Ultimately the decision is a personal one.

Sources and sites for further reading:

http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2017/10/07/dr-seuss-museum-mural-to-be-replaced-amid-claims-racist-depiction.html

http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/10/andy_yee_dr_seuss_chinese.html

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/politicaldrseuss/film.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Seuss

Violence In The Classroom

Violence in the Classroom, those two words should not be in the same sentence, let alone be allowed to occur in a school setting. Unfortunately, it does occur, every single day in classrooms across the country.

            Each morning parents send their children to school expecting them to be educated by caring teachers in a safe and secure classroom. While some parents may be nervous entrusting their child to an adult stranger, they have peace of mind knowing that teachers go through a vetting process that includes a criminal background check, a child abuse clearance, and an FBI clearance.

Yes, teachers and administrators are approved to be in the classroom, but what about the students? In my 17-year career as a public school teacher, I witnessed a lot of violence enacted by children in my classroom. So much so, I had to leave the profession due to stress and mental fatigue.

What grade did I teach? The answer might surprise you. It wasn’t middle school or high school. The last 3 1/2 years of my career I taught Kindergarten. That’s right, Kindergarten. 30 students in a regular education setting, where both diagnosed and undiagnosed socially/emotionally disturbed children were placed.

         I was expected to teach all of these students and achieve measurable results through differentiated instruction, small and large group instruction, and following the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) goals of special needs children. A tall order when classrooms are overcrowded and your district has cut funding for vital programs and essential school personnel.

Things happened in my classroom you had to see to believe. One school year there was three sexual assaults in my classroom: children assaulting children. That same year, one of the students who’d committed an assault, tried to stab two classmates with a pair of scissors he’d brought in from home.

I’ve had chairs thrown at me and tables pushed into me. I’ve been punched, kicked, bitten, slapped, pinched, spat on, and pulled to the floor. I’ve had students empty an entire classroom library of books, throwing the books and book bins at their classmates.

            I’ve had students push classmates down the stairs, stab each other with pencils, flip over shelves, jump and tackle students while they sat on the carpet, and down right brawl during instruction. One student liked to open and slam the door while I taught, another would sometimes scream whenever I opened my mouth to speak, or just scream for the sake of screaming. One student threw chairs at his classmates for fun! He laughed while he did it.

On more than one occasion, I had to remove students from the classroom due to violent outbursts by their peers. Children can’t learn when a classmate is throwing chairs at them or climbing on cubbies while throwing pencil boxes and lunch bags at them.

When I couldn’t control the severe and dangerous behaviors I was penalized. My principal gave me poor scores on my observations. To some this may sound unbelievable.
How could a teacher be held accountable for the actions of children, who should be learning social norms at home, and receiving the medical support they need from their parents? I asked myself that question everyday until I resigned from my position.

This is the first school year that I’m not teaching. I had hoped that the teacher who took over my classroom would have a better experience than I had, but according to one employee who works there, things are still the same. This cycle of educational neglect needs to be undone.

What more has to happen before we as a society take collective responsibility for our nation’s educational future? Many of us are so busy pointing fingers at those with differing points of view that we’ve lost sight of the truth: our nation’s children are losing out on their inalienable right to a free and fair public education that is rigorous and utilizes the latest research-based methods.

There has been a strong push to increase the literacy skills of students. Our students need to compete in an ever-evolving global economy. While I agree that being literate is essential to a productive society, I would argue that nurturing our youngest citizens mental health should come first.

It is a moral imperative that we safeguard the welfare our future. Parents and educators alike must make their voices heard for this essential need. Parents have to work together with teachers, petitioning leaders and volunteering at schools to fill the void left behind by so many cutbacks.

It is a daunting task, but together those of us who believe in our children can achieve what some have forgotten, that all children regardless of race, religion, or gender are our only hope. Let’s give them the tools they need to succeed.

Bedtime Stories with David Shannon

No, David by David Shannon is a hilarious story about a little boy who has trouble making good decisions. Whenever he does something he’s not supposed to his mother always says no, David. As you can imagine his mother has to say ‘no’ quite a lot.

David’s bad ideas lead to naughty antics every parent, teacher, and child can relate to. Everyone’s family or classroom has an impulsive child who needs constant reinforcement to do the right thing. Children adore this book. It was a big hit every single time I read it to my students in September. Once I put a copy in the classroom library, they would constantly revisit the story throughout the school year, and giggle through conversations about David and his bad ideas.

No, David! is the perfect story to discuss appropriate behavior with your child. It is also a good segue into talking about consequences for one’s actions and accepting responsibility for them. While you read with your child, discuss David’s actions and whether he’s doing the right thing. Together, brainstorm ideas on how David should behave and how he can make things right for his naughty behavior.

HOMEWORK

After a lengthy day of sitting at a desk and listening to their teacher’s instructions, your child comes home from school. They drop their heavy schoolbag bursting with books and announce, “I have so much homework!” Right then you know you’re in for a long evening of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

STOP-RIGHT-THERE!

I do not consider myself an expert on this topic, but students should not be bringing an exorbitant amount of work to do at home. I believe that homework is supposed to be a chance for children to practice and reinforce what they learned earlier in school that day. The next day, that homework is then supposed to provide a quick assessment for understanding, and an opportunity for the teacher to answer any questions the students may have encountered during the assignment, through a mini-lesson.

I’ve been through the ‘crazy nights’ of homework where the teacher assigned 20 math problems and my child didn’t know how to do one, let alone all 20. Two or three problems would have been sufficient practice. I’ve also helped my child complete assignments, a.k.a. busywork, that had nothing to do with what they were learning in school at the time. What a waste of time! I think some teachers and parents hold to the archaic belief, that an abundant amount of homework leads to better learning.

Although I assigned homework to my Kindergarten class, I questioned it’s validity. After being in school all day should a five-year old really have to sit down for more written work? There were times when I didn’t want to assign it, but school administration required it. Some parents would complain to the office when a teacher didn’t send work home for the night. When I assigned homework to my class, I did my best to keep it simple for them and differentiate the homework to the students’ ability levels. I wasn’t always able to accomplish this goal due to time constraints and resources. Also, preparing homework this way can be very difficult to plan and keep track of.

For example, if I had a student who had poor fine motor skills and couldn’t identify the letter of the week, I would give them a worksheet that required them to color the uppercase and lowercase letters different colors. Whereas another child, whose skill set was more advanced, would receive a worksheet that required more writing and initial sound practice. I tried to make the homework brief and meaningful.

Like the subject of education itself, homework can be a controversial topic. For further information on the topic please view the link below. It has a list of resources that are perfect for an informed discussion between teachers, parents, and administrators.

http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/rethinking-homework

The Kissing Hand by: Audrey Penn

The Kissing Hand is a popular back-to-school read aloud used by teachers every September. It is an endearing story that tells of a young raccoon named Chester Raccoon who is reluctant to leave his mother, because he is anxious about starting school for the first time. To ease his anxiety, Mrs. Raccoon tells him about a special secret that will help him should he begin to he miss her during the school day. The special secret is called the kissing hand.

The Kissing Hand demonstrates the strength each parent must show when their child achieves a milestone toward independence; the bitter sweetness of pride at their accomplishment and loss as you realize your child is growing up a little more each day. It also shows that while children grow and need us less and less, their love, like ours remains constant.

This is a wonderful story to share with your child and offers a great opportunity to start a discussion about any fears they may have about going to school. If you’d like to do a fun follow-up activity with your child, Pinterest has plethora of story-related ideas.

Other books by Audrey Penn:

$chool $upplie$  

Every September, supply list in hand, wallets open, parents and their children flock to the stores to purchase the items required by the new teacher. This is an expensive time of year, the items on those supply lists add up. I once overheard a child ask their parent, “Why does the teacher make us buy all of this stuff?” That’s a very good question, and lucky for anyone asking the same thing, I have a very good answer.

While families are dolling out money on notebooks, paper towels and hand sanitizer, teachers are doing the same thing. As a former public school teacher, I can tell you with confidence that teachers are out there right now buying pencils, markers, crayons, construction paper, and whatever else is needed to ensure your child succeeds in their lessons. This may come as a surprise to some, but not all public schools have the necessary supplies to make it through a successful school day. Tissues and toilet paper were a hot commodity at one school where I taught. I know it sounds absurd, but it is a sad truth.

My first year teaching Kindergarten, I was assigned to a classroom that furnished me with tables, chairs, lined paper, a disintegrating carpet, and leveled books for guided reading. I had to buy everything else: scissors, markers, crayons, pencils, containers for storage, the list goes on and on. I spent over $1000.00 dollars that school year on basic supplies and other educational items I needed to properly instruct my students.

All in all, school supplies are costly for everyone involved and ‘everyone’ is the key word in this situation. As parents and educators, we are all responsible for the education of our children; whether we like it or not, part of that education requires everyone chipping in for school supplies, toiletries, office supplies, snacks, field trips, fund raisers… Did I mention school supplies?

The Second Day of School

So, your child’s first day of Pre-k or Kindergarten came and went. Everything was perfect, you took your first day of school pictures, kissed your little one good-bye, and watched as they bravely walked into school with a big smile. At dismissal, the teacher told you your child had a wonderful first day and you felt relieved that you didn’t have to deal with the back to school blues.

But then…

Yes, I know, the second day of school arrived and with it came the water works and pleas to stay home. You feel confused and worried? You thought that your child liked school. They were so excited to go and when they came home they talked for hours about how exciting everything was. What happened in 24 hours to change their minds?

There is so much excitement on the first day of school that some children don’t have time to process everything right away. I think for these children the first day of school is like a field trip or a special visit to a new place. After a few days, they begin to realize that this “school thing” is real and that they have to go everyday, and guess what? They don’t want to go.

What are you going to do now?

Fortunately, I have a few suggestions to help with this dilemma.

*Understand that your child has been thrust into a brand new place, with new faces and new rules. We feel the same way when we start at a new job.

*If your child is having a hard time adjusting to a full school day, discuss a temporary 1/2 day option with the teacher and the school office. The school may not approve of this strategy, but it’s worthy of a conversation.  An alternative strategy may come up during this discussion.
*Give your child a family photograph to keep with them during the school day.
*Many children who arrive to school in tears are often fine once they get settled in their classroom.
*Develop a routine and stick to it. When children know what to expect they feel safe. When they feel safe, they learn. When they learn, they thrive.

I hope this helps ease the transition for those children and parents who need extra time getting used to a new school year. If you have additional strategies that you think would be helpful please comment.

A really good book to read with your child about the anxiety of going to school:

Back to School Blues  


The sales, the supplies, the first day of school–the tears?

For many children, parents, and teachers back to school is a time for tears. It can be very stressful for everyone involved.

Take a deep breath, all of you will get through this. Trust me, I taught for 20 years and my students, their parents, and I survived. It wasn’t always easy, but we made it work.
It’s all about communicating with each other and working together to ensure each parent, child, and teacher is successful.

A few things parents can do to help ease the transition:

  • To prepare your little one for their first day of school spend time preparing them for what’s to come. Talk about how the daily schedule will change when school starts.
  • Visit the school. Even if it’s closed, take a walk through the school yard and try to guess where your child will line up on their very first day.
  • Start a bedtime routine a week or so before school starts. Read a book together and try to have your child in bed by 8:30. A good night sleep goes a long way in keeping stress levels low.
  • Give your child a family photo to keep in their book bag or hang in their cubby. Sometimes being able to look at a picture of their loved ones throughout the school day provides comfort to children who are homesick.
  • Make sure your child eats a healthy breakfast each morning. Hungry students don’t learn as well.
  • Dress your child in comfortable shoes that are made for school work and recess. (No open-toed shoes or sandals. Sneakers or the school recommended shoe are best.) For safety reasons, I had to exclude children from playing in the school yard when  they wore the wrong shoes. Talk about tears!
  • Let the teacher know about any difficulty that is occurring in your family. When a teacher knows about a hardship affecting a student, he can better understand the child and prepare a plan-of-action to use if the need arises.
  • When school is over ask your child specific questions about how their day was. Ask them what they ate for lunch, what books the teacher read, if they made new friends and what their names are, what was their favorite/least favorite part of the day and why.

Books about back to school: