Type of Activity: Relationship Building, Discussion tool for prejudice or diversity
Props Needed: The book, The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss ignites a child's imagination with his mischievous characters and zany verses. Although best loved for children’s literature, it is often noted that Dr. Seuss wrote about social issues. This story is one of his best, but least cited, examples of this. This story has significant social meaning. The Sneetches is a story of a society of haves and have-nots, in which access to the good things of life are determined by whether you have a star on your belly or not. Although it is a simple children’s book, it is certainly a commentary on racial, gender, or any number of other social categories. The story’s strength is that it shows just how arbitrary and constructed these categories are. Features—such as a star, but also skin color, gender attributes, etc—can be used to define people as dominant and powerful or repressed and marginalized. What is at issue is not which characteristics are used to delineate the people into specific social categories or identities, but how people marginalize others by playing up those definitions.
The Sneetches is about a society that is very segregated. There are two types of sneetches: star-bellied and plain-bellied. The star-bellied sneetches are very exclusive and only invite other star-bellied sneetches to their parties and picnics and frankfurter roasts. This makes the plain-bellied sneetches really sad.
"Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches / Had bellies with stars. / The Plain-Belly Sneetches / Had none upon thars."
Everything changes, though, when Sylvester McMonkey McBean shows up. He has a machine that can put a star on plain-bellied sneetches, so of course, they all get stars. But when the original star-bellied sneetches find out about this, they're really mad. They get their stars taken off by Sylvester. Soon, a horrible mess is made. Everyone is getting their stars taken off and then put back on until they realize that it does not matter whether they have stars or not.
The Sneetches is a great book. It teaches that looks do not matter; instead, we should accept people just the way they are. In some school districts there is a lot of talk about social and emotional literacy. This book demonstrates to students that differences and individuality are what make everyone unique and exciting. This book has been used with students as old as 14 years old (seventh grade). The older students loved the fact that someone was reading to them. For many students it had been a long time since an adult had read them a storybook. Please know your audience. This book will not be well received by all age groups or populations. This book is geared toward younger kids, but with the right group it could be used with older kids as well.
Process: Read the book, The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss out loud as a group.
- How did the star-bellied sneetches treat the plain-bellied sneetches?
- Were the star-bellied sneetches any better than the plain-bellied sneetches?
- Why did the plain-bellied sneetches want to be like the star-bellied sneetches?
- Does it matter what people look like on the outside?
After a brief discussion on the storyline, also discuss with the group some points about prejudice.
Each of us is unique with our own talents, skills, and experiences to offer. There are many ways that people can be different from you:
- moral or spiritual beliefs
- cultural background
- intellectual strengths and weaknesses (e.g., being better at languages or math)
- social skills and preferences (e.g., being shy instead of outgoing)
- tastes, interests, and hobbies (e.g., liking sports or music)
- physical features (e.g., sex, size, skin color, body shape)
- sexual and/or gender orientation or preferences
While we all benefit by being surrounded by people with different beliefs, skills, and experiences, these differences can sometimes cause people to be targets of hatred and prejudice. To understand what prejudice is, it’s important to be able to define words like stereotypes and discrimination. Prejudice can have some serious effects, but there are many things you can do to recognize and reduce prejudice in your own life.
After the discussion, ask students to find a partner and ask them to find three things they have in common with one another.
For more resources see: Setting the Conflict Compass, The Sneetches,
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