Expert Makes Dr. Seuss Relevant to High School

WWII Expert Makes Dr. Seuss Relevant to High School English
Posted on 11/15/2019
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Dr. Seuss graphicNow that they’ve studied some of his 400-plus political cartoons, students in Marian Weber’s American Literature class at Lakota West will likely never look at a Dr. Seuss book the same.  

“We’ve all read his children’s books, but I never realized there were deeper meanings beyond all the rhymes,” said West junior Sergio Negroe, noting his surprise at finding out Dr. Seuss’s first career as a controversial political cartoonist later used children’s books to subliminally apologize for his former missteps. 

To build upon her class’s recent study of “The Crucible,” Weber invited an expert from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana into her classroom via Skype. For over an hour, students analyzed a handful of blatantly racist political cartoons that Dr. Seuss had authored before and during World War II. She says the enrichment activity offered students a parallel example of historical literature characterizing a time marked by mass hysteria and the idea of one being guilty without evidence.

“It was a great example of history repeating itself, and and an opportunity to examine the historical evidence of mass hysteria in the 1600s versus the 1940s, especially through the eyes of an author as relevant and well-known as Dr. Seuss,” Weber said. Ending the lesson with students creating their own “Crucible” political cartoons opened the door to a discussion about the impact of modern day hysteria and accusations without proof created through channels relevant to their generation, such as social media, for example. “I think it’s important for them to make that real world connection to what we’re reading in class to what they write and read about others on social media. That’s what makes it relevant,” she said.  

Another goal of the lesson was to reinforce additional concepts like allegory, symbolism, irony, allusions and unfounded accusations as studied through “The Crucible,” by analyzing them through a completely different form of writing. “The concepts we analyzed through Dr. Seuss’s work wasn’t new, but it provided an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge of the concepts by examining different forms of writing and expression,” she said. 

Negroe recognized that cartoons or illustrations can be as effective a method for sharing a message, especially at a time when attention spans are short and people want something simple and to the point. Junior Kenneth Harris appreciated the hidden depth of Dr. Seuss’s writing, too. “I always thought of his children’s books as just playful and silly, but I definitely take him more seriously as a writer now,” he said.  

Weber was especially glad to incorporate the Skype chat with the WWII expert, noting that the real world learning opportunity allowed her students to dive more deeply into a specialized subject. “I’m not always the expert and that’s okay,” she said. “Sometimes the best thing I can do to enrich a lesson is to connect students with an expert in the global community to stretch applications in critically analyzing a topic in depth.”  

“It was really cool to sit here and ask questions and get feedback from someone whose job it is to know everything about Dr. Seuss,” said junior Chris Dunn