In 1961, Dr. Seuss published The Sneetches, a book that still resonates with students more than 50 years later. During national Read Across America Day on March 1, Ridge Road Middle sixth-graders studied Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches and learned valuable lessons about discrimination, inequality and status.
“Dr. Seuss’ work is not just for children and babies,” said language arts teacher Norma Beatty. “It has a greater meaning and deeper depth.”
The book is about a group of Sneetches that are made in two different forms. One set of Sneetches have stars on their bellies and the second group is without stars. The star-bellied Sneetches make those without feel inferior. The starless Sneetches are bullied and isolated from activities of the other Sneetches. One day the plain Sneetches pay to get stars painted on their bellies, but this infuriates the already star-bellied Sneetches and they try to find a way to be superior again. As the Sneetches were removing and adding stars, the group soon couldn’t tell which group was which. They realized that one group wasn’t better than another.
Beatty said it was Dr. Seuss’ way of writing about World War II and the Nazi regime.
“This lesson isn’t only relevant to Read Across America and Dr. Seuss’ birthday, but to the life lessons of today. It talks about status symbols and bullying,” said Beatty. “We teach through Common Core instructions and that makes students take a deeper look and understanding of what they are reading. They delve in and evaluate.”
During her class, Beatty had her students work in groups to discuss if they have ever acted like Sneetches or been treated as one. They also looked at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to examine it from a Sneetch's angle.
Sixth-grader Jada Palmer said, “The star-bellied Sneetches believed they had a higher hierarchy in society. The non-star bellied Sneetches were seen as the forgotten ones.”
Jada said she read the book when she was in the first grade, but gained new insight from it this week in Beatty’s class.
“We should treat each other equally as a society,” Jada said. “It is the only way to get along in society and to help one another.”
Student Micahiah Dunn said he learned that his words can be powerful and that he had to be careful about how he used them.
“Dr. King taught us not to use violence, but to use our words. Words can be strong and powerful, but they shouldn’t be used to hurt people.”