LIZ PHIPPS SOEIRO
In 2017, school “library specialist” Liz Phipps-Soeiro became a national poster girl as the most famous Politically Correct, totalitarian, “Critical Librarianship -Social Justice” Librarian. Reasons for her sudden international fame include outrageous hypocrisy and Phipps-Soeiro’s efforts to reconfigure her professional public workplace into a very personal political forum. In September 2017 President Trump’s wife, Melania, sent 10 Dr. Seuss books to a high-achieving schools in every state. This gesture from the Ms. Trump “has been an annual gesture by previous first ladies for years.” Phipps-Soeiro, however, in her official capacity as the library specialist at Cambridgeport School in Cambridge, MA, rejected the books and wrote Ms. Trump a very public explanation for this rebuff, based on Phipps-Soeiro’s personal political views. “Dr. Suess is a bit of a cliché,” decided the library specialist,
“a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature. As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips. Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.” [See the discussion about the politics of, and surrounding, Carla Hayden, the first African-American Librarian of Congress, later in this work]
“Dr. Seuss’s illustrations,” further directs Phipps-Soeiro, “are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”
Phipps-Soeiro hypocrisy in a bid to use her librarian job to highlight her own political biases are astounding. Online sleuths have discovered her dressed in a Dr. Seuss character outfit for a Dr. Seuss event at her own school two years earlier, during the Obama presidency. While she slams First Lady Trump for promoting the “racist” work of Dr. Seuss, there are photographs of former black First Lady Michelle Obama all over the internet reading Dr. Seuss books to schoolchildren. President Obama even said the following to a teacher audience while promoting his Read Across America initiative, in an easily accessible video, posted online by Obama’s White House and then the Washington Post in 2016:
“Pretty much all the stuff you need to know is in Dr. Seuss. It’s like the Star-Belly Sneetches, you know? We’re all the same, so why would we treat somebody differently because they have a star on their belly? If I think about responsibility, I think about Horton sitting on the egg up in the tree, while Lazy Mayzie’s flying off, doing whatever she wants. You know what I mean?
All I’m saying is that as you get older what you will find is that the homespun, basic virtues that your Mom, or your Dad, or folks you care about or admire, taught you – about hard work, being responsible, being kind, giving something back, being useful, working as a team … turns out, it’s all true.” [Bold type added]
Even Hillary Clinton fondly quotes a letter of solace from a fan who gives advice after Clinton’s presidential loss: “Breathe. Think only about whether you want strawberries or blueberries with your breakfast, about which Dr. Seuss book to read to your grandchildren.” [CLINTON, p. 25] [Apparent subtext for Phipps-Soeiro: “Hillary, after your loss to Trump, why don’t you relax, shake it off, and read some racist books to your grandkids.”]
One more: even an iconic “progressive librarian,” Marxist Elaine Harger, expressly recommends Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax to fellow social justice aficionados. [HARGER, p. 202]
So how can it be that Dr. Seuss is a solid guide for ethical and moral principles to President Obama and a cuddly grandkid episode for Hillary Clinton but suddenly an outdated racist oppressor for a crusading librarian when it is Donald Trump who is now president? What else can this be, but the stark bigotry and one-sided obsession built within the tenets of “critical librarianship,” an ideology that condemns the alleged racist foundation behind essential “homespun, basic virtues” that even Obama sanctions?
Phipps-Soeiro recommended to Melania Trump a list of ten children’s books that include, in the librarian’s words, “the beautiful resilience of children who stand up to racism and oppression and for social justice and reform” and “children who challenge society’s social constraints and are accepted and loved as who they say they are.”
Phipps-Soeiro’s no neutrality personal grandstanding within her job context wasn’t a big hit even in at least a few of the more liberal media outlets. Thu-Huong Ha defended the choice of Dr. Seuss, arguing:
“There is room on the shelf for more than one kind of diversity—not only the books that instruct on the real world, or on racism and oppression, but also those that subtly instill inclusivity through lack of identity. That’s a fluidity that many of Dr. Seuss’s books, for all their own absurdities, give to readers.”
The Washington Post blog (truly no friend of Donald Trump) even featured a headline saying “What the librarian who rejected Melania Trump’s Dr. Seuss books as ‘racist’ got wrong.” “A librarian’s role,” says Molly Roberts,
“— and Cambridgeport’s has a graduate degree in library science, so she should know it — is to curate a collection that represents a diverse set of viewpoints over an extended period of time so that readers can see the widest possible picture of the literary past and present. Her additional role as an educator is to provide students with the full context of any of those works, showing them how to understand the good, the bad and the ugly in it.
No school employee has an obligation to fawn over an administration whose policies they see as antithetical to their mission as an educator, and Soeiro’s letter does include separate critiques of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s agenda. But the way she chose to lash out against DeVos’s regime — by rejecting a well-intentioned gift on disingenuous grounds — doesn’t seem in line with that mission either.”
The Democratic mayor – Dominic Sarno — of Dr. Seuss’ home town (Springfield, Massachusetts) that has a new Dr. Seuss museum, even blasted Phipps-Soeiro’s position as “political correctness at its worst.”
Liz Phipps-Soeiro is not obscure. She is a political activist in a variety of realms. From her springboard as a “library specialist,” she is also the “legislative co-chair of the Massachusetts Library Association,” and was heralded in April 2017 by the School Library Journal as a “hero of family outreach.” The Library Journal honored her the same year with its “Mover and Shaker” honorific. The assistant director for library services for Cambridge Public schools claims that Phipps-Soeiro “epitomizes the best of our [library] profession.” Phillps-Soeiro’s political advocacy includes the international group “Libraries without Borders” (Bibliothèques Sans Frontières –BSF) and among her contributions to this organization is designing and selling a T-shirt that says “Read” and “Write” above a black fist coming out of a heart astride an open book, with the word “Resist” beneath it. As Phipps-Soeiro notes about this advertising:
“I am a school librarian in Cambridge, MA, founder of the Cambridge Book Bike and on the inaugural advisory committee of BSF. I designed this shirt in response to our current political climate as a reminder of the power of information and the power of the people.”
Clinton, Hillary Rodham. What Happened. Simon and Schuster, New York …, 2017.
Harger, Elaine. Which Side Are You On? Seven Social Responsibility Debates in American Librarianship, 1990-2015, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2016.