Fruit Plate

Places to Go: Dr. Seuss and the Politicolors

Like any great model, the strength of the politicolors pairs their simplicity with their potential for greater interpretation.  The collective works of Theodore Geisel aka Dr. Seuss are just the same.  In my second year of utilizing Professor Harris’s model, I coupled Seuss stories with each of the boxes.

I teach upper elementary students, but believe that great children’s literature contains the same room for re-discovery as any adult “classic.”  What follows is a summary of some Seuss, supplemented with a flurry of outside resources which might add greatly to the discourse, no matter what age your group.

[Note: I taught the boxes in the order listed, spacing out the Seuss enough that the next story to appear became an exciting “reveal,” rather than a mechanical happening.  As of this post, we still hadn’t gotten to Oh! The Places You’ll Go!]

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (Green Box).  I chose this story, as most of the students have read the original.  The plot remains essentially the same: Cat in said cap returns to unleash chaos upon (less?) trusting children.  Green box discussions match nicely with the beginning of the year in which rules are established.  Students easily grasp the notion of a state of nature and the importance of fencing off the “wilderness” in order to establish natural law.

Horton Hears a Who (Yellow Box).  A classic tale of humanity that moves the reader beyond his/her own world (nationality, culture) and into the perspective of another.  Excellent discussion can be generated by connecting this with current events such as the Tsunami in Japan.

The Sneetches and The Lorax (Orange Box).  The civilization box is one I continue to explore.  To me, an understanding of what it means to be civilized includes the control of our power.  Whether the racism in Sneetches or the environmental havok in Lorax, there’s plenty of opportunity to debate what it means to be “civilized.”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Red Box).  I’ve already written a post on this one 😉

Yertle the Turtle (Blue Box).  Among the shortest of any of these tales, it quickly gets across the point of a bad king.  To explore the possibilities of a good king, this can be paired with The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. The King in the latter is a bit more complex in that he offers many opportunities to stay BC’s execution; however, the threat of his sovereign power remains.

Oh!  The Places You’ll Go! (Purple Box)  A common gift for graduates, this story relates well the power of an individual as well as the pitfalls possible without self-discipline.  There’s a strong federalist message here, with one’s personal constitution as GPS, hot-air balloon, row boat, or mountain-mover.

Additional Resources and Sample Activity:

GREEN BOX

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak; Hatchet; My Side of the Mountain; The Black Stallion; Duke Theseus’ soliloquy on imagination from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 7-22; Emily Dickinson’s “I Hide Myself within My Flower” and “Will There Really Be a Morning?”; Carl Sandburg’s “Young Sea” and “Summer Stars”; Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing”; Vachel Lindsay’s “The Rockets That Reached Saturn”; William Carlos Williams’ “Heel & Toe to the End”; Frost’s “On Looking up by Chance at the Constellations”; Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter”; David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Peter             Schilling “Major Tom,” Handel’s “Scipio”; Selections from Cicero’s “The Dream of Scipio”; The Mayflower Compact

Activity: Draw an inverted triangle narrowing your location from broadest/ most general to narrowest/ most specific  (Ex. Universe…1234 Schoolhouse Road); create a mandala circle with your personal relationships in proportion to you (circle center); use Google Earth

YELLOW BOX

The Stranger by Chris Van Allesburg; Sadako by Coerr and Young; The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth; Star Wars trilogies; Jacques’ reflective soliloquy on life from As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7, Lines 139-166); Portia’s soliloquy on mercy from The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 182-195; Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and “A Time to Talk”; Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody!  Who Are You?”; Carl Sandburg’s “Phizzog”; BandAid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and a kajillion other 80s songs with human themes; Selections from Aristotle’s Politics

Activity: Contest to list most human emotions/ use “stick figures” to illustrate; what “new” emotion is created when anger gets crossed with sadness?; explore one emotion you have not yet felt (access compassion); connect with Needs of Humankind” “No (hu)man is an island.”

ORANGE BOX

King Henry’s stirring soliloquy from Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3, lines, 40-67; MacBeth‘s soliloquy in which he has murdered to become King, Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 19-28; Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Dream Variations,” “I, Too,” “Words Like Freedom,” and “Mother to Son”; Carl Sandburg’s “A Sphinx,”             “Skyscraper,” and “We Must Be Polite”; Rudyard Kipling’s “Prelude to Departmental Ditties,” “If,” “Thorkild’s Song,” “Natural Theology,” and “The Ballad of East and West”; Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”; ee cummings’ “Portrait VIII”; Poe’s             “Eldorado,” William Carlos Williams” “The Fool’s Song” and “The Problem”; reference Star Wars trilogies; excerpts from A Christmas Carol or other Dickens; Aesop’s Fables: “The Frog and the Ox,” “The Mice in Council,” “The Wind and the Sun,” “The Trees and the Axe,” “The Lion and the Other Beasts,” “The  Fox and the Stork,” “The Fox and the Crow, “The Wolf and the Goat,”  “The Boys and the Frogs,” “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs,” “The Monkey and the Dolphin,” “The Travellers and the Bear,” “The Kite, the Hawk, and the Pigeons,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and “The Gnat and the Lion”;  mythology; Arrow to the Sun by McDermott; just about anything by Robert Browning; selections from the works of George Orwell, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rachel Carson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Mead; video games such as Sims or 1602; “Manifest Destiny”; WtP (middle school) selection: Tragedy of Antigone; WtP (elementary): Two Years Before the Mast; What happens to social acceptance when other cultures are enmeshed?  What is the role of the layers below: Humanity? Natural rights?  What if the orange box grows?  What if it shrinks?

Activity:  Trace  the history of an invention to the notion of “standing on the shoulders of giants”, explore resources and the ways in which these are harvested and the human resources behind them; contrast locally-grown with industrial product.

RED BOX

Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”; Langston Hughes’ “My People”; Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”; selections from Sherman Alexie; selections from Will Rogers; Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”; Civil War as “house divided”; Who has been disenfranchised from our people?;  What does it mean to be Vietnamese, Iraqi, British, Japanese?  Who are these peoples?; Who are Native Americans? The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Goble; Revisit Mayflower Compact; Declaration of Independence; When did we become a people?/ How are we still becoming a people?; connect with Needs of Humankind; Shays’ Rebellion; Can a people coexist without a shared view of civilization?  Humanity?  Natural rights?; Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges; Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On?”; Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is”; Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”; Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” (maturity dependent); Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”; Spinal Tap’s “America”; Arlen & Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow”; Williams’ “Rainbow Connection” (I like the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ version.); National Anthem; Bernstein & Sondheim’s “America” (West Side Story); music as very powerful connection to red box stuff

Activity: Find a song that represents “the people”; bring a copy of the song and printed lyrics; be prepared to explain your interpretation

BLUE BOX

Selections from “The Masque of the Red Death”; Articles of Confederation; selections from Notes on the Debates of the Federal Convention; Kipling’s “The King’s Job”; Milne’s “The King’s Breakfast”; Shelley’s “Ozymandias”; Andersen and Zwerger’s             The Nightingale; Tennyson’s “On the Jubilee of Queen Victoria”; selections from various British musical acts, maturity dependent (The Who, The Beatles, The Housemartins, The Clash, etc.)

Activity: Invent a card game using the royalty cards to show what you’ve learned about monarchy.

PURPLE BOX

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson; Langston Hughes’ “Youth”; Claude McKay’s “America”; Henry Van Dyke’s “America for Me”; U.S. Constitution; Emily Dickinson’s “Revolution is the Pod”; Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”/ Springsteen’s live version

Activity: Write a constitution of self; “mail it” to yourself one-year from today (delivered by teacher); how have you amended yourself/ how have you remained?

Project Citizen

Having been briefly introduced to Project Citizen at the National Academy, I decided to try it out this year.  It’s an ideal, outcome-based activity as much about the journey as the finish.  And the great thing about the finish is that it’s really just the beginning, for students receive the tools to research and formulate public policy.  In the end, it is incredibly empowering for the kids to discover the pathways through which they can enact change.

A few words from my fourth-graders (non-speakers) when asked today by the panel what they had learned from the experience: “I learned what private domain is.”  “Compromise.”  “Better research skills.”  “How a bill becomes a law.”  “How long it takes to pass a bill.”  “A lot about pollution and landfills.”

In our first few sessions, my 4th-6th grade students narrowed their choices for the project to these rough ideas: Save Bears, Clean-Up Michigan’s Rivers, Fix the Litter in Detroit.  The more we delved into the text, students discovered that those topics really weren’t clear proposals for public policy.  They also gained a ton of knowledge regarding sovereignty, as well as private sphere/civil society/ government.  The more they learned, the more focused their idea became, and their eventual choice–EXPAND MICHIGAN’S BOTTLE LAW–ended up as a wonderful combination of the early favorites.

P1040614 P1040612 P1040613 P1040611

The four areas of the portfolio–PROBLEM, ALTERNATIVE POLICIES, OUR SOLUTION, and ACTION PLAN–serve as a fantastic outline for anyone of any age attempting to bring about change.

The panel presentation in a committee room at the state capitol was the pinnacle of the experience.  Having misjudged time, our project came down to the wire (lesson learned: start early!); as a result, the kids didn’t first benefit and learn from a local session.  However, they could not have done any better than what I witnessed today.  Thorough preparation pays dividends, and I was so proud of my students for presenting without reading from a page.  (It does make a difference, I can tell you, as we were able to observe a high school group who did just that.)

P1040621

We will be participating in Project Citizen next year, and in the years after!  Sincerely, the entire process has been one of the most valuable of my entire teaching career.

If you have any questions about Project Citizen, right down to the tooth ‘n’ nails, feel free to contact me at [email protected], or pose your questions here.