The Real Problem with “Canceling” Dr. Seuss

Gabrielle D’Arcy
3 min readMar 4, 2021


In the 1940s, experts were alarmed when literacy rates began to fall. While there were many factors contributing to this problem, experts identified a particular, fundamental issue with kids’ ability to read: the books children were given were mind-numbingly boring. “Fun with Dick and Jane,” a literacy standard at the time, did not inspire foster a love of reading in the generation of children who were assigned it. Luckily for the World War II generation, they had a champion: one Theodore Geisel, a Jewish-American cartoonist and children’s book author who went by the now-iconic pseudonym Dr. Seuss.

Today’s children need fun, engaging education even more than their war-era great-grandparents did. In the United States, 24% of eighth graders aren’t reading at a basic level, per the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The situation is even more dire for minority kids: only about 18% of black students are estimated to be reading at proficient level or above. This was true prior to the pandemic, but now, in an age of Zoom kindergarten in which one-on-one time with the teacher is a thing of the past, studies show that America’s children could be an average of four to six months behind — and for black and Hispanic kids, it could be as high as twelve months. In the name of low-income and minority students’ achievement, Dr. Seuss’s vast repertoire and educational philosophy — that every child can read successfully if given the tools — should form the basis of our national, coordinated approach to literacy.

And yet, it is precisely in the name of minority students that his books are now being ripped from the shelves. Several of his books, including bestselling classics “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” are being removed from school curricula due to “racist images.”

Never mind the fact that Geisel was a fierce critic of racism. Never mind the fact that many of his cartoons explicitly condemned isolationism and callousness toward refugees, including a particularly famous cartoon in which a grandmother reads to her horrified-looking grandchildren that it “didn’t really matter” that the Big Bad Wolf ate Jewish children. Never mind the fact that the images themselves are really quite tame, including a picture of an Asian man eating with chopsticks. And certainly never mind the fact that America is facing an unprecedented crisis in our education system, one that will require an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure our most vulnerable students do not slip through the cracks. The powers that be in the world of education would rather focus on “anti-racist” aesthetics.

Literacy rates for black kids will not improve if we remove Dr. Seuss books from the shelves, nor will inner-city, majority-minority schools enjoy better access to resources if his so-called “racist” illustrations are censored. Conspicuously absent from this conversation is any suggestion of policies that will actually improve black children’s material reality. The same people calling to “cancel” Dr. Seuss will in the same breath oppose school choice and condemn charter schools, both of which have had demonstrable success in improving educational outcomes for minority children. The activists’ silence on these issues betrays them: canceling Dr. Seuss has nothing to do with black kids’ wellbeing and everything to do with self-important progressives signaling to others how enlightened they are.

Censorship is never the answer to any problem, but in an era of unprecedented disruption to our children’s education, limiting the amount of information they are able to receive is certainly not the solution. We should be focused on improving literacy rates across the board, but particularly for our most vulnerable students. And slandering the author who has become the symbol of literacy and academic achievement in America is surely the worst way to accomplish that. Parents should be free to discuss racism with their children however they see fit and draw their own conclusions together rather than powerful activists and school systems dictating to them which images they’re allowed to access.