The Marxists come for Dolly Parton (2024)

The first time I sat down to read “Llama Llama Red Pajama” with my one-year-old daughter, I had no idea I was supporting “white saviorism.”

In fact, according to an academic at University of North Carolina, the book was one of many sharing “racist, sexist, hom*ophobic, classist, and ableist biases.”

That’s one heck of a children’s book!

I thought we were just enjoying a story about an androgynous baby llama who cried without its llama mama. Instead, we were “eras(ing)” characters with “dis/abilities, LGBTQ+ couples, and non-normative gender identities.”

I’ll never look at that poor baby llama the same ever again.

Of course, I’m kidding – at least about being disturbed by the content of the book. I’ll read it again. And again. And again. Because that’s the torture kids put their parents through.

Unfortunately, I’m not kidding about Jennifer K. Stone’s Ph.D dissertation thesis “Reading Power With and Through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library: A Critical Content Analysis,” itreally does say all those things and more about “Llama Llama Red Pajama.”

Stone took a critical eye to Parton’s book club, which sends free books regularly to kids just born through age 5 in an effort to promote literacy.

You see, it doesn’t matter that the books are free. It doesn’t matter that participation in the club is voluntary. It doesn’t matter that the purpose of the book club is to promote literacy.

All Stone could see was “only characters who conformed to dominant White western values conveyed in the corpus.”

“Individualism, work, single family homes, physical fitness, and goal-oriented literacy were some of the values privileged,” Stone added.

There’s a lot going on there.

I can at least understand the argument that a wider range of characters should have been included. I’m not sure I agree that that was an actual problem, but it’s at least a defensible position.

But work is bad? Physical fitness? Does Stone instead want to see more books about sloth and torpor?As if only Whites and the West believe in work or physical fitness.

There’s too many depictions of single-family homes? Why not a llama yurt commune? Ironically, in California many elected Democrats have for years been pushing to eliminate single-family zoning, we’ve arrived at the intersection of Marxisthalf-baked theory and Marxist half-baked public policy. More on Marxism shortly.

It makes no sense that “goal-oriented literacy” is something to condemn, as Stone does. She’s arguing literacy for literacy’s sake is not enough.

But you know what literate kids can do? Read whatever books they want, including including books (and dissertations) riddled with Marxist jargon, which is why the goal of literacy for literacy’s sake is sufficient.

As such, Stone’s argument doesn’t support its own weight. A common theme among Marxist academics is that for all of the thought put into their work, and with this dissertation there was no shortage of thinking, their arguments are surprisingly shallow.

Whereas books like “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and “The Little Engine That Could” (another book panned by Stone) aim to promote virtues like patience, teamwork and perseverance, Stone sees no value without intersectionality.

The fact that Stone’s dissertation was not only successfully defended but actually won an award suggests intellectual decay throughout her department at UNC.

In analyzing the selection of books, Stone turned to the canon of “critical” Marxist doctrines: Critical Race Theory, Critical Literacy Theory and Critical Dis/abilty Theory, which are defined by a belief that “systemic oppression functions in every part of society.”

In other words, everything is a story of oppressors and the oppressed.

Talk about taking the fun out of children’s books!

If you, like me, asked yourself: Who the heck comes up with this stuff?, one answer is Paolo Friere, a father of Critical Literacy Theory.

According to Stone, Friere “taught Brazilian farmers to read by recognizing the oppressive nature of existing reading and writing pedagogies and appreciating the existence of multiple literacies that allow people to ‘read the word and the world.’”

I can’t imagine anyone learning to read that way. That sentence itself is illiteracy in sentence form.

There are many problems with viewing the world through critical theory. One of course is that it’s essentially an academic conspiracy theory, constructed on a cork board with thumbtacks and yarn seeking connections that may or may not exist, propelled by the belief that you will find oppression everywhere if you squint just right.

It’s the same ideology that cloaks itself in virtue while justifying killing Jews as a means to end oppression. It’s true that if everyone were dead there could be no more oppression, but that seems to miss the mark, you know?

I’m sure Stone is well-intentioned. And maybe there is a kernel of truth that the curators of Dolly Parton’s Imagination LIbrary’s reading list could include more diversity in their selections. But the argument goes off the rails when implying that a book without a kid with a stutter or a non-binary adult with 12 toes islike they don’t believe in work or physical fitness anywhere else.

It’s extremely hard to take academic arguments seriously that grasp at such absurd extremes – they detract from the noble desire to present more types of characters in stories.

I know I can’t change the Marxists’ minds, but I can keep reading about baby llamas and little engines with my kids so much that one day they’ll be able to determine what’s absurd for themselves.

Follow Matt on Twitter @FlemingWords

The Marxists come for Dolly Parton (2024)
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