This isn’t an ethics quiz. It’s not ethics commentary. This is clearly an ethics episode, but, frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m fighting some kind of flu (no, not Wu-Flu); I have a pile of half-begun and half-thought out ethics stories on a cyber-pile, and I just feel overwhelmed and depressed. So I’m just going to present this weird event from the public [NOT ‘pubic,’ as I typoed once again] school chaos, and I invite readers to explain what ethics issues they see here.
For the latest edition of the NPR’s podcast “Planet Money”, Shale Meadows Elementary School third grade teacher Mandy Robek was scheduled to read books reading “The Sneetches” to her class as part of about the theme of economics education from in children’s books. Amanda Beeman, the assistant director of communications for the Olentangy Local School District (in Ohio) prepared for the segment by choosing books from the school’s library. The district had stipulated that politics were off limits for discussion. “Pancakes, Pancakes!” by Eric Carle; “Put Me In The Zoo” by Robert Lopshire; a poem from “Where The Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein, and “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss were ultimately read to the class. Well…almost.
You know “The Sneetches,” right? Published in 1961, the story is about a community of long-necked birds that all look identical except that some have stars on their bellies and some don’t. The Plain-Belly Sneetches are traeted by the rest as inferiors, so entrepreneur Sylvester McMonkey McBean sells them stars so they can aspire to be Star-Belly Sneetches.The Star-Bellied Sneetches, resenting the intrusion on their select domain, then succumb to a scheme to have them pay to remove their natural stars. Now the once- Star-Bellied Sneetches will be Plain-Belly Sneetches, and can look down on the former Plain-Belly Sneetches all over again. Meanwhile, supply and demand makes the local capitalist rich.
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable with the book being one of the ones featured,” Beeman was heard saying on the podcast during the middle of “The Sneetches” reading by the teacher. “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.” As if on cue, a third-grade student soon piped up, “It’s almost like what happened back then, how people were treated … Like, disrespected … Like, white people disrespected Black people!”
The teacher kept reading, but shortly after that unplanned comment Beeman shut down the story. “I just don’t think that this is going to be the discussion that we wanted around economics,” Beeman said on the podcast. “So I’m sorry. We’re going to cut this one off.”
Beras, the host, protested that “The Sneetches” is about preferences, open markets and economic loss, but Beeman replied, “I just don’t think it might be appropriate for the third-grade class and for them to have a discussion around it.”
Later in the podcast, Beras tried to make sense out of what had occurred. Beeman replied, “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.”
Now, if the class was watching a drag show, discussing how a man can become a woman by simply deciding to be one, or learning that the United States was based on slavery, that would have been fine, presumably.
I’m sorry: forget I wrote that.
What’s going on here?
Source: Columbus Dispatch