77. Deconstructing the Lorax

The Lorax: Dr. Seuss Revisited and Revised February 29, 2012

With the release of the Universal Pictures film, The Lorax, based on Dr. Seuss’s classic “environmental” book of the same name, we share an article by Bill Bigelow about the lessons children learn (and don’t learn) from the book and film about the causes of environmental ruin and how to organize for change. The article first appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine in the early 1990s. Rethinking Schools published a blog on Mar. 1, 2012 extending this critique to the Universal Pictures release of the film by the same name. Read here.

What is a good society, and how can we bring it about? Tackling these not-so simple questions was the goal of “Literature and Social Change,” a class I taught for several years at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon.

One of our texts was The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. On first reading, The Lorax appears to be a straightforward tale about the horrors of pollution and the necessity to become aware of nature’s interconnectedness. Although the book chronicles an environmental holocaust, the story ends on a hopeful note, with a redemptive speech from the formerly evil Once-ler. The earth and its creatures are given another chance to live a sane and ecological life. With luck, we may live happily ever after.

Indeed, The Lorax offers wonderful potential to provoke students to think about environmental degradation — from the rape of the ancient forests to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. As many educators have noted, discussing The Lorax can encourage students—even young children—to see themselves as environmental activists in their own communities.

In class we read The Lorax as serious political literature, just as we approached Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. On this level, The Lorax is flawed, offering a misleading analysis of environmental ruin and a wrong-headed — albeit implicit — strategy for social change.

Read more here…

Other terrific sources from the Zinn Education Project and Rethinking Schools for Screen-Free Week:

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy, includes excellent articles by teachers, scholars, parents and activists who examine how and what popular TV programs, films, and other media “teach.”

A Review of ’42’: Jackie Robinson’s Bitter Pill, by Dave Zirin (ZEP)

Rethinkin’ Lincoln (RS blog)

“Ball Licky-Lickly!” Pedagogical Strategies for Interrogating Pop Culture Images, by Özlem Sensoy



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