Dr. Seuss's Sneetches learn that outward differences don't matter. There's no need to pay to get a star added or removed from their bellies. They all share a common sneetchhood.
That's insufficiently anti-racist (which means it's racist), says a Learning for Justice analysis, The book's message "does not acknowledge structural power imbalances" or "the idea that historical narratives impact present-day power structures." Even worse, "instead of encouraging young readers to recognize and take action against injustice, the story promotes a race-neutral approach."
In a school district near Columbus, Ohio, Sneetches are vanguards of critical race theory. NPR's Planet Money was taping a third-grade class where teacher Mandy Robek was illustrating how children can learn economics principles from kids' books. An administrator pulled the plug when a student noted that the star-bellied Sneetches are discriminating against plain-bellied Sneetches in a way that recalls racial discrimination in the U.S. That was politics, she said, not economics.
NPR's Erika Beras asked a group of economists to recommend children's books that teach concepts such as division of labor (Pancakes, Pancakes!) and the labor-market matching process (Put Me in the Zoo). Three economists recommended The Sneetches because it deals with "preferences and class, open markets, entrepreneurship, discrimination and economic loss, some game theory," said Beras.
ROBEK: (Reading) "The Sneetches." Now, the star-belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The plain-belly Sneetches had none upon thars (ph).
BERAS: The star-bellied Sneetches don't let the plain-bellied Sneetches come to their frankfurter roast, picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts.
ROBEK: (Reading) They kept them away, never let them come near. And that's how they treated them year after year.
A student named Katie says that's "mean."
Noah says it's "almost like what happened back then, how people were . . . disrespected, like how white people disrespected black people." He hopes the plain-bellied Sneetches might "stand up" for themselves.
Entrepreneur Sylvester McMonkey McBean sees an opportunity, designs a machine and charges $3 to star the bellies of plain-bellied Sneetches. When being starred loses its cachet, he charges for his star-off machine.
Then Amanda Beeman, the district's communications person, asked for a pause. "I just feel like this isn't teaching anything about economics, and this is a little bit more about differences with race and everything like that," she said.
Later, in an email, she wrote: "When the book began addressing racism, segregation and discriminating behaviors, this was not the conversation we had prepared Mrs. Robek, the students or parents would take place. There may be some very important economics lessons in The Sneetches, but I did not feel that those lessons were the themes students were going to grasp at that point in the day or in the book."
Are there really parents who'd object to students discussing why discrimination is bad?