Dr. Seuss's 'Yertle the Turtle' deemed too political for B.C. classroom

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Yertle the Turtle and other stories by Dr. Seuss. Random House publishers

A Prince Rupert elementary teacher has been told a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle is a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom.

The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.

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The advice is in keeping with a 2011 arbitrator’s decision that found political materials must be kept out of B.C. classrooms, said Dave Stigant, who is acting director of instruction for the Prince Rupert School District and who met with the teacher to discuss what would and wouldn’t run afoul of district standards.

And while he conceded Tuesday that it might seem absurd to spend time reviewing quotes from, among others, Dr. Seuss and former Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker, Mr. Stigant said the review is necessary to protect students from an often-bitter dispute.

“It’s a good use of my time if it serves the purpose of shielding the children from political messaging,” Mr. Stigant said. “I don’t consider it’s taking a stand on the dispute. It’s a matter of legality and living up to our obligation to children and their families.”

The quote in question – “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights” – comes from Yertle the Turtle, the tale of a turtle who climbs on the backs of other turtles to get a better view.

In the midst of a labour dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the province, the quote was deemed unsuitable.

“I responded that in the context, it was borderline,” Mr. Stigant said. “Contextually, it was political – but it was grey and I would prefer it didn’t appear and I believe she agreed.”

Yertle’s quest for a higher vantage point ends when the turtle at the bottom of the stack – who’s pleaded, “I’ve pain in my back, my shoulders and knees – how long must we stand here, your majesty please” – burps, sending Yertle hurtling to the mud.

Mr. Stigant said he didn’t know the source of the quote when he met with the teacher. On Monday afternoon, Joanna Larson, president of the BCTF local in Prince Rupert, noted on Twitter that “teachers could be disciplined for displaying a Dr. Seuss quote.”

Relations between teachers and management in the Prince Rupert are strained. In 2011, teachers from the district filed more than 100 grievances, a record high for the province, according to the teachers’ federation.

The issue of teachers wearing pins or displaying quotes has come up periodically since they went on strike last year, with the district sending notes to about a dozen teachers about the issue, Mr. Stigant said.

In the first phase of their strike, which began in September, teachers withdrew some services, such as supervision and preparing report cards. That action ramped up to a three-day legal walkout in March.

Bill 22, new education legislation that came into effect last month, ended the strike and brought in a mediator. Under the bill, the mediator is required to stick to the government’s net-zero mandate, which stipulates that new contracts can’t cost any more money than collective agreements they replace.

This month, BCTF members voted in favour of a provincewide withdrawal of voluntary, extracurricular activities to continue their protest against Bill 22. Since the bill was passed, the union and the government have clashed over the mediator selected by the province and report cards.

The BCTF has asked the labour relations board to oust mediator Charles Jago, who was appointed last month. The province maintains the board does not have jurisdiction. A decision on that matter is pending.

The board this month ordered teachers to prepare interim and year-end report cards. The BCTF had argued teachers shouldn’t be required to do work that was withdrawn as part of the legal strike.

Teachers and the government are at loggerheads over issues including wages, classroom conditions and the province’s response to a court ruling last year that found previous education legislation was unconstitutional.

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