Saturday, February 19, 2011

Using Dr. Seuss to Illustrate Points in Historical Texts

There are odd pedagogical moves one finds oneself making when both a teacher and a parent.

This past week I was conducting a detailed discussion and analysis of Madison's Federalist 10 in class, trying to really break down and convey the argument in all its detail, and we came to the following passage (the second half; the first is quoted for context):
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.... So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.
And as I was explaining what this meant (for unlike the idea that factions might be caused by religious differences, differences in philosophy of government, differences in property, etc, which my students got more-or-less on their own, this one was giving them difficulty), I quoted the following illustration of the point:
Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking....
They left them out cold, in the dark of the beaches.
They kept them away. Never let them come near.

-- Dr. Seuss, The Sneetches
What can I say? It was a text I thought they'd all have read, anyway. I think it got the point across.

(I know, I know: a real scholar would have mentioned this instead.)

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