The surprising reason teachers want to get To Kill a Mockingbird out of the classroom

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As a quick overview of the book, To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1961 novel about racism, sexism, and growing up in 1930s Alabama. It’s also about a white lawyer (Atticus Finch, the father of the little girl in the book, Scout Finch, who is the protagonist) who defends a Black man (Tom Robinson) who stands trial after being wrongly accused of rape by a white woman. The book won a Pulitzer Prize, was made into at least one major movie adaptation, and has been required reading for many public school students for decades. (I myself read it in the classroom.)

The problem? According to three teachers in the school district, the book should be removed as a required text as it perpetuates a “white savior” complex, racial slurs (the N-word), and portrays Black characters as one-dimensional. Teachers worried that the text could ultimately be harmful to students of color.

According to Crosscut, teacher Verena Kuzmany spoke at the school board meeting on Monday night, asking people to “examine carefully … whose collective memory we are uploading.”

Doug Baer, who also teaches at Kamiak, said students shouldn’t have to sit through “embarrassing and offensive language” during classroom discussions of the text. Baer said that students deserve to be taught in an environment that respects them, and added that it isn’t about censoring books, but about the students. 

Some folks—including teachers—spoke in defense of keeping the novel as a required text, saying it helps teach students important critical thinking skills and that the themes are still relevant today. Ultimately, because the book is optional, teachers can still teach it if they’d like to. The text will also still be available in the school library.

“If a teacher really wants to continue to teach it in their classroom that would be their option because it would remain on the approved novels list,” Mukilteo School District spokesperson Diane Bradford said, according to local outlet King 5. Bradford added that students could “opt out” if they’re uncomfortable with the material.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions here is what the book can be replaced with. Yes, themes in the book are certainly still relevant today, and yes, it’s a powerful text with nuance and room for young people to debate and open their minds. But it’s also written by a white author, centering white people, and establishing white people as saviors.

Replacing the book with a text by a Black writer would be the ideal situation—off the top of my head Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison come to mind—because we really don’t need white people clogging up opportunities for stories by people of color to shine. It’s also possible to include one (or many) texts by Black writers alongside Lee’s to help students get a fuller range of experience, perspective, and thematic nuance. 



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