Massachusetts · School Talk

The Cat in the Hat Would Have Never Done That

Apparently no one ever taught the librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School about basic manners and professional etiquette. Instead, upon receiving a box of Dr. Seuss books from First Lady Melania Trump, Liz Phipps Soeiro decided to do exactly the opposite of the right thing, that simple “thank you” we work to teach our children to say when they receive a gift, whether they like it or not. Instead, she rejected the gift and made the conscious decision to insert her politics into a context where they absolutely didn’t belong. And suddenly, a gift from the First Lady in honor of National Read a Book Day was selfishly transformed into a public rant against our Secretary of Education and school choice and alleged racism found in the work of Dr. Seuss.

(And before you start yelling “Trump supporter” at your computer, no, I didn’t vote for our current president.)

No Lorax Allowed in This Library

I get that the per-pupil in her district is $20,000. She shares that fact in her letter. But I don’t hear her offering to share any of those dollars with the other districts about which she is suddenly so concerned. Instead, she is unhinged over the fact that there are needier schools than hers who need books. She also found a way to let her readers know about her degree in Library science. Maybe the students at her school don’t need her skills as badly as the under resourced schools in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit that she references in her diatribe. She boasts that her school library has 9,000 volumes. Why isn’t she sharing those?

But this librarian doesn’t stop at the fact that her school and her students don’t need these books. She went on to impugn Dr. Seuss as an author whose work, she claims, is “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.” She goes on to add that Seuss is “a bit of a cliché” and a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature”.

Really Liz, the Librarian? You certainly didn’t seem to have a problem with all this “racist propaganda” in 2015 when you were smiling from ear to ear dressed as the Cat in the Hat. You see, your decision to bring unwanted attention to your school district by way of your childish response to a gesture—a gift—from the First Lady has led to people wanting to know more about you and bingo, they found that your contempt for Green and Eggs and Ham is quite new. How convenient.

Did it bother you in 1998 when Hillary Clinton read to children with a life-sized Cat in the Hat seated behind her?

Did Michelle Obama’s embrace of Dr. Seuss rankle you too? Would you have rejected a box of books from her? Somehow I doubt it. It seems that your problem isn’t the books at all; it’s the politics—the president—that motivated your public shaming of the First Lady over what was nothing more than a kind gesture. A gift of books for children.

Our former president, Barack Obama, was also a big fan of Dr. Seuss. He said this the same year you were beaming in your Dr. Seuss hat and matching tights at school.

Theodor Seuss Geisel — or Dr. Seuss — used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear,” Obama wrote.

“Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things.” -Barack Obama, 2015

Remember that other time when you celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday by strapping a stuffed version of the Cat in the Hat into a Baby Bjorn clad in that same big red and white striped hat? Did anyone call you a racist propagandist that day? Or accuse you of peddling in a a tired and worn cliché?

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Rude Fish

But putting aside your hypocrisy on the whole Dr. Seuss books are racist thing, let’s talk about your utter lack of manners. Rather than pen a letter on a public forum that intends to embarrass and shame the gift giver, why not politely say thank you and then find a different home for the books in one of the under-resourced libraries you describe in your letter? A little re-gifting never hurt anyone and it seems that it would have been a far more polite (and less public) way to go.

The bright side is that you have provided so many of us with a teachable moment for our own children. It’s often hard to think of an egregious example of rude behavior when it comes to gift giving and you have provided all of us parents with the perfect teaching tool. And the great news is that we can use it again when we teach hypocrisy and unprofessionalism too.

So, thanks for that.

There’s a lot to be upset about these days. A gift of books for children isn’t one of them.





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