Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss triggers political dispute in B.C. classroom

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

When you think of politically threatening symbols, it's unlikely a large sea reptile with googly eyes immediately springs to mind.

But the Prince Rupert School District in B.C. has decided that Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle conveys far too volatile a political message to be introducing to its students.

As the Globe and Mail reports, a quote from the book has been ruled as failing to comply within the district's mandate to keep all political materials out of B.C. classrooms.

The quote "I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights" was deemed unsuitable in the midst of an ongoing labour dispute between the British Columbia Teachers' Federation and the province.

"It's a good use of my time if it serves the purpose of shielding the children from political messaging," Dave Stigant, acting director of instruction for the Prince Rupert School District, told the Globe. "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."

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

Stigant said he met with the teacher in question and explained that, while the book itself is fine, it was inappropriate for her to be displaying or wearing the quote on her clothing in the classroom.

"I responded that in the context, it was borderline," he said. "Contextually, it was political — but it was grey and I would prefer it didn't appear and I believe she agreed."

The Globe article explains that in the book Yertle, king of his clan, climbs up the backs of his fellow turtles to improve his own vantage point. His ascent comes to an end when the turtle at the bottom of the stack starts to voice his complaint.

"I've pain in my back, my shoulders and knees — how long must we stand here, your majesty please," the turtle pleads before his subsequent burp sends Yertle hurtling back into the mud.

Prince Rupert has recently been involved in a tense standoff between its teachers and management. Last year, district instructors filed over 100 grievances — a record high for the province.

The idea of teachers sporting pins or displaying quotes to emphasize their cause has become a sensitive point since their union first went on strike in 2011.

Reaction to the Yertle decision has been mostly met with derision over making an issue out of a children's story. However, a small group agrees with the decision, saying the students should not be pulled into the labour dispute between their teachers and the administration, as they're unlikely to get a balanced view on the matter if their teachers fail to represent both sides of the issue.

Click here for more detailed information about the Prince Rupert labour dispute.