What’s Going On Here? You Tell Me…[Corrected]

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

24 thoughts on “What’s Going On Here? You Tell Me…[Corrected]

  1. I think the story has an economic component to it, but I think I agree that it is not the best story to use to illustrate economics, unless you are specifically talking about the economic models of race hustlers.

    The principle message is not an economic one, and the principle message kind of clouds the economic one.

    And, why does the race hustler have to be Irish?! McMonkey McBean? Harkens back to when the Irish were compared to apes.

    What’s going on THERE?


    • And, why does the race hustler have to be Irish?! McMonkey McBean? Harkens back to when the Irish were compared to apes.

      What “Irish”? Where I* come from, a Mc- or Mac- name is more usually associated with the Scots. Given the stereotypes, that makes more sense of a Scottish money maker.

      * Disclaimer: I had a Scottish father (with a surname probably anglicised from a Mac- name after the ’45) and an Irish mother (with a Ker- surname that her French neighbours often took for Breton when they weren’t confusing Irlandaise with Hollandaise). On learning that about me, many people say “that explains a lot”**. I have never understood what they meant by that.

      ** One, though, said “so you drink a lot at other people’s expense”.

      • “Jack Woltz: Now you listen to me, you smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch, let me lay it on the line for you and your boss, whoever he is! Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don’t care how many dago guinea wop greaseball goombahs come out of the woodwork!

        Tom Hagen: I’m German-Irish.

        Jack Woltz: Well, let me tell you something, my kraut-mick friend,


  2. My wife and I both believe that kids have almost no perception of race relations on their own. Kids will be kids as long as the adults get out of the way. It takes training them in racial issues to make them hyperaware of all the racism allegedly going on around us.

    That the children immediately associated “The Sneetches” with how white people treat black people is indicative of a narrative foisted on the kids already. That could have easily been a comment on “that’s how rich people treat poor people” or “that’s how the kids from the private school treat the kids from the public school” or “that’s how the jocks treat the geeks” or whatever group you want to focus on. But because we’ve made everything about white/black racial dysfunction, the kids see it as an analogy on white/black racial dysfunction. Go figure.

    I love the reading “The Sneetches” to my kids. Almost as much as “Fox in Socks.”

  3. I’m going to agree with the comments already provided. I think “The Sneetches” was a good book to read but not the best one to read when discussing economics. The students have likely had race relations poured down their throats and quickly seized upon what could be argued is a racial allegory in the story.

    They saw what they have been programmed to see.

    Shutting down the podcast was stupid, though.

  4. “ I’m just going to present this weird event from the pubic school chaos, and I invite readers to explain what ethics issues they see here.”

    I think you meant public school.

  5. Economics?!?

    What the hell are we talking about here?

    “But McBean was quite wrong. I’m happy to say

    That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day.

    The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

    And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.

    That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars

    And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.”

    This is accompanied by a picture of two Sneetches (one with a star one without) holding hands like friends.

    The point of the story is NOT economic.

  6. I remember the Dr. Seuss story (I was a big fan back when I was a child, and Dr. Seuss books were common fodder for reading in doctor’s offices, which I was in a lot), and I always got the message that the thrust of the story was not economic, but rather poking fun at people using superficial differences to do what the left does so well these days — preen and virtue signal their moral superiority over the proles who don’t share their beliefs. In the Sneeches story, they were prideful of their stars, “No stars upon thars”, I believe, was the way the story put it — condescending to those Sneeches without stars.

    I think the moral lesson Dr. Seuss intended here has little to do with race, and more to do with the completely human desire to be superior to someone else. We see this tendency daily on social media, most notably in the Twitter mobs that “cancel” those who have sinned against the liberal zeitgeist. The stars were probably representative of the stars teachers used in lower grades to reward good performance, I suspect, and a warning by Dr. Seuss to his audience that, to paraphrase Yoda, “Stars not make one great!”

    I wouldn’t rule out that the story was intended as a race lesson, but given Dr. Seuss’s audience, I doubt it was that specific — more likely a general commentary about the consequences of keeping up appearances. Nor was it a statement about “privilege,” as our leftists friends might aver. But it does have an economic message of sorts, and I believe it to be essentially that it is unwise to “Keep up with the Jones'” or economic ruin might be in the offing.

    I don’t recall it occurring to me when I was reading the story that it was an analogue for racial bigotry. Nowadays, everything is, so I can hardly blame people for feeling that way.

  7. I taught Econ 201/202 and Entrepreneurship at Hagerstown Community College. While I am not familiar with this children’s book I see very little in terms of Economics short of differentiation. But, differentiation deals with products when we evaluate people’s preferences and choices Further, when dealing with consumer behavior it has nothing to do with difference in group appearance.
    It seems more concerned with ensuring a given caste system remains entrenched.

    Another way to look at this is how the elite sought to keep Trump out of polite society. Just looking the part is not enough so the in group adopts a new look to differentiate themselves.

    Perhaps the story should be used to illustrate group dynamics to maximize group power.

    • If you have not read it, McMonkey McBean supplied a service that filled a demand of applying or removing stars from the bellies of Sneetches.

      As I recall, he walks away with all of their money.

      It is at that point that they are enlightened and realize that there are no differences between them.

      Quite a Marxist/Anti-Marxist view of economics, if you ask me.


  8. Sneeches is the kids example of “bias makes you stupid” and gullible and when you’re gullible things get taken from you by McBeens.

  9. Mother of four, grandmother and great-grandmother of eleven … I have read probably all of Dr. Seuss’ books many times. A noted progressive of his time, he was nevertheless gentle in his messaging. It is fair to say that the more you read, the more you absorb the layers of social, ethical and moral themes.
    The Sneetches is a prime example of this with its themes of bigotry and greed, but also entrepreneurial genius and social redemption.
    It’s interesting that woke culture cancels several of Dr. Seuss stories for perceived insensitivities, but I now object to their liberal bias.
    Still read them, though.

  10. Having grown up on (mostly) British children’s books available in the 1940s and a bit beyond, I never got familiar with most of the American ones until I was of parenting age myself and realized how fortunate I’d been. The “other” door opened when a college roommate prescribed a treatment (literally designed and wrote out an Rx) ordering a reading of several Dr. Seuss books to protect the brain from the illness known as “overstudy.” I’ve been a Seuss fan ever since and thus abhor the disrespect and stupidity of those who would pervert his works and presume to label the author.

    A writer on a parent web called Romper.com notes “During WWII, Seuss would create as many as five political cartoons in a week for PM Magazine, but many of the caricatures now create significant discomfort with their racialized stereotyping typical of his epoch.” Riiiight! No, not right: the “discomfort,” like “offensiveness” exists solely in the brain of the one who has pre-labeled, invalidated, and deliberately warped the meaning of what is being said or read.

    This is what’s known as the crime of interpreting everything in Presentism. (I may have mentioned this previously but it bears repeating) Presentism is “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.”
    I call it a crime because I consider censorship a crime and presentism essentially censors everything not acceptable to the woke, such as lessons of past, and those awake in the past who will continue to jog memories and try to pry others’ eyes open. As far as I can tell, the “woke” are fast asleep.

  11. Yeah, “The Sneetches” has nothing to do with economics and anyone with any exposure to the book knows that. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it: this entire episode was completely planned, carefully staged, and then executed.

    P.S. I sorely wish I had read this before your correction. I would have coughed up my lungs in laughter.

  12. I’d like to know what sort of discussion they were expecting third graders to have about economics.

    Also, Beeman choose the books and then, before the precocious child pipes up, decides to, on air, retract her choice? What a mess.

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