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Gertie Keddle

Why Are We Still Teaching 'To Kill a Mockingbird' in Schools?

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Gertie Keddle

Why Are We Still Teaching 'To Kill a Mockingbird' in Schools?

We need to ask what lessons we are conveying with Harper Lee's classic, and how useful they are to 21st century students.

by Alice Randall / Oct.19.2017 / 6:48 PM ET

NBC

Excerpt:

 

A Mississippi School Board sparked outrage this month when it voted to cut "To Kill a Mockingbird" from eighth-grade reading lists in Biloxi. The issue? Some people complained that the book’s language made them uncomfortable.

 

While the backlash was swift, those who blindly defend "Mockingbird" are missing an important point. If the criteria for inclusion on a middle school syllabus was simply whether the novel provokes tough discussions, Harper Lee’s opus belongs in as many classrooms as possible. But that is not the only question.

 

Let’s be clear: "To Kill a Mockingbird" is not a children’s book. It is an adult fairy tale, that is often read by children in wildly different — and sometimes profoundly damaging — ways.

Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" Laura Cavanaugh / Getty Images file

 

Some of that damage is obvious: the black child who has been verbally abused by being called a “<censored>” in the schoolyard could be more hurt hearing that word taught in the classroom, for instance. Another kind of damage less often discussed is how the text encourages boys and girls to believe women lie about being raped.

 

These damages can be mitigated or evaded by an excellent teacher.

 

Students are strong enough for tough discussions; they easily can untangle the use and misuse of the word “<censored>” in "Mockingbird." But Mayella Ewell’s lies, which are the crux of the false charges brought against Tom Robinson, are far more complicated — too complicated for the eighth grade, perhaps even with an excellent teacher.

 

And the book cannot continue to be taught as if every person in the classroom is white, upper middle class and needs to be prodded into being Scout. It should be taught by asking questions about why there are no black characters with agency in the novel, by wrapping it in with the history of the Scottsboro boys — a group of black teenagers falsely accused of raping two white women — and through raising questions about how "Mockingbird" (and American history) complicates the modern “believe victims” movement.

 

We need to be asking what we are teaching when we teach "To Kill a Mockingbird," and how useful those lessons are to 21st century students. We should be asking whether then novel, written by a privileged daughter of the Old South should still take up space in curriculum that could be well used to expose students to literary voices on race and injustice that have emerged in the past 50 years — voices who wouldn’t have been published at the time that Harper Lee was first published.

 

<edit>

 

But imagine instead that you are an African-American eighth-grade boy in Mississippi today, and are asked to read "Mockingbird." Perhaps it reinforces your growing suspicion that you are unlikely to get a fair trial should you stand accused of something like Tom Robinson.

 

Or imagine instead that you are an impoverished, white eighth-grade girl in New York today, asked read "Mockingbird." Perhaps it fuels your growing suspicion that people don’t believe girls who say they have been raped — and that, should you be raped and try to tell people about it, people will have reason to doubt you like the book says everyone should have doubted Mayella Ewell.

 

Or think of Calpurnia, the older black maid who cooks and serves without seeing much: she isn’t developed as a character as much as written as a set piece, suggesting the worst to young readers about the role of black women and black female intelligence.

 

And then, of course, there is Tom Robinson, falsely accused and “crippled,” in the parlance of the book, meant to indicate that he would have been physically incapable of sexual assault. Asking a child reader to decode that artistic choice of Lee’s is to ask them to think about whether black men are not desirable, impotent or marred — or that rape is a crime that can only be committed by an able-bodied person.

 

Every student who reads Lee’s book does not identify with Atticus or with Scout, and teaching it as though they do, or they must, may reinforce the very stereotypes about black men and impoverished women that teaching the book is supposed to combat. Some identify with Tom Robinson, or with Calpurnia, or with Mayella Ewell and, for these students, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a far more complex text which, in the hands of a less-than-effective teacher, can be damaging.

 

Article

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cobalt-blue

Whole article is an example of why journalism is dead. If you have to ask this question, if you suggests these are problems with To Kill A Mockingbird, then YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Take this woman out and horse whip her. She's too dumb to be writing.

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Ladybird

I don't think the author gives 13 year olds enough credit. If it were assigned in 4th grade, I could see a concern in having it explained skillfully to the youngsters. 8th graders should certainly be able to deconstruct and draw their own conclusions or at least intelligently discuss the themes of the story.

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Buckwheat Jones

I don't think the author gives 13 year olds enough credit. If it were assigned in 4th grade, I could see a concern in having it explained skillfully to the youngsters. 8th graders should certainly be able to deconstruct and draw their own conclusions or at least intelligently discuss the themes of the story.

I generally don't agree with you, but I do here.

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Big Dave

I don't think the author gives 13 year olds enough credit. If it were assigned in 4th grade, I could see a concern in having it explained skillfully to the youngsters. 8th graders should certainly be able to deconstruct and draw their own conclusions or at least intelligently discuss the themes of the story.

:exactly: Another reason why "children" are extending their childhood into their twenties.

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Taggart Transcontinental

I don't think the author gives 13 year olds enough credit. If it were assigned in 4th grade, I could see a concern in having it explained skillfully to the youngsters. 8th graders should certainly be able to deconstruct and draw their own conclusions or at least intelligently discuss the themes of the story.

 

I read the book in school, and I find the use of the N word to be repulsive. So apparently I realized long ago using the word is stupid.

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Kilmerfan

Whole article is an example of why journalism is dead. If you have to ask this question, if you suggests these are problems with To Kill A Mockingbird, then YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Take this woman out and horse whip her. She's too dumb to be writing.

:yeahthat:

 

I don't think the author gives 13 year olds enough credit. If it were assigned in 4th grade, I could see a concern in having it explained skillfully to the youngsters. 8th graders should certainly be able to deconstruct and draw their own conclusions or at least intelligently discuss the themes of the story.

:yeahthat:

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Kilmerfan

What next The Diary of Anne Frank?

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firecoco

What next The Diary of Anne Frank?

No...Huck Finn

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Severian

No...Huck Finn

The better question is why does it seem no school requires “1984” anymore or “Animal Farm.”

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Wag-a-Muffin (D)

While I was substitute teaching fourth grade (for a one month length of time) I read Holes, by Louis Sachar to a fourth grade class. In this book, there is a small subplot about Kissing Kate Barlow, who begins as a white school marm, who falls in love with Onion Sam, a black peddler handyman. Trout Wilson (a minor character) is infatuated with Kate, and when he discovers she loves Sam, he burns down the school house and kills Sam. This action causes Kate to turn to a life of crime.

 

I was reading aloud and wondered (as I read) how is this group of ethnically diverse kids going to take this? Should I have maybe thought about this part of the book before I began reading it?

 

But no parent called the school. And we had a pretty good discussion about the differences between life in the past and life now.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird is fiction, but it describes how life was at some point, in some places. Sad if we remove all examples of past behavior to shield today's youth.

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Ladybird

What next The Diary of Anne Frank?

More likely Slaughterhouse Five.

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mjperry51

I read the book in school, and I find the use of the N word to be repulsive. So apparently I realized long ago using the word is stupid.

Tag -- this type of "absolutism" makes me crazy.

 

It's the absolutism that leftists use to justify removing statues of Thomas Jefferson -- in spite of all the good he achieved. It's the absolutism that leftists use to hold the behavior of people who have been dead for 200 years in contempt because their actions didn't comply with contemporary standards that have evolved over time.

 

No context; no allowing for growth and improvement. A true baby/bathwater scenario. . .

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LongKnife

No...Huck Finn

Some schools have already chunked that one.

 

New classics include:

 

Heather.jpg

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baldeagle

Some schools have already chunked that one.

 

New classics include:

 

Heather.jpg

 

Sad. . . . But true.

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Wag-a-Muffin (D)

I bet if someone would "rework" the old classics they could make a pile of money.

 

To Refill a Mockingbird

 

Scout and Jem Finch live in a single parent family. Boo Radley, a transgendered kind person lives next door and writes encouraging notes to his little friend, Scout. He places them in a ceramic mockingbird statue that sits in a tree in her front yard. The two become great friends and over the summer try to stuff notes all the way to the top of the bird bottle. Some rowdy conservative kids empty out the bottle one evening. Heart broken, Boo vows to "refill the mockingbird."

 

Oh, I should do more. . .

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MontyPython

I bet if someone would "rework" the old classics they could make a pile of money.

 

To Refill a Mockingbird

 

Scout and Jem Finch live in a single parent family. Boo Radley, a transgendered kind person lives next door and writes encouraging notes to his little friend, Scout. He places them in a ceramic mockingbird statue that sits in a tree in her front yard. The two become great friends and over the summer try to stuff notes all the way to the top of the bird bottle. Some rowdy conservative kids empty out the bottle one evening. Heart broken, Boo vows to "refill the mockingbird."

 

Oh, I should do more. . .

 

LOL

 

Huckleberry Filling:

 

Take two cups of freshly-picked huckleberries and a cup of sugar...

 

;)

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Wag-a-Muffin (D)

LOL

 

Huckleberry Filling:

 

Take two cups of freshly-picked huckleberries and a cup of sugar...

 

;)

To serve man: IT'S A COOK BOOK!

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Ladybird

The Red Shoe Diaries of Anne Frank.

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MontyPython

To serve man: IT'S A COOK BOOK!

 

LOL

 

The Twilight Zone is old enough that even I can remember it!

 

:thumbsup:

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Rock N' Roll Right Winger

Tag -- this type of "absolutism" makes me crazy.

 

It's the absolutism that leftists use to justify removing statues of Thomas Jefferson -- in spite of all the good he achieved. It's the absolutism that leftists use to hold the behavior of people who have been dead for 200 years in contempt because their actions didn't comply with contemporary standards that have evolved over time.

 

No context; no allowing for growth and improvement. A true baby/bathwater scenario. . .

:exactly: :yeahthat:

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Rock N' Roll Right Winger

LOL

 

The Twilight Zone is old enough that even I can remember it!

 

:thumbsup:

 

toserveman.jpg

Ahh, yes.

 

The Kanamits!

 

Starring the late Richard Kiel.

 

One of my favorite episodes! :)

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Kilmerfan

More likely Slaughterhouse Five.

Too bad I read that in high school.😎

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Kilmerfan

The Red Shoe Diaries of Anne Frank.

Green tofu and carrots.

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Hieronymous

I don't think the author gives 13 year olds enough credit. If it were assigned in 4th grade, I could see a concern in having it explained skillfully to the youngsters. 8th graders should certainly be able to deconstruct and draw their own conclusions or at least intelligently discuss the themes of the story.

Or be able to convincingly say that the dog ate their homework...

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