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Is Public School the Right Context for To Kill a Mockingbird Anymore?

Somehow, I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird before this year. I’ve owned a very nice copy for years. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those classic novels that many people were required to read as part of their high school curriculum. I have mixed feelings about teenagers being introduced to challenging literature by government employees, but I’m truly fascinated by this book’s place in education. 

First of all, I need to get this out of the way: To Kill a Mockingbird is a great novel. I wish I were the kind of person that could picture sitting down and eventually producing a work like this. Even though I grew up in a different time and place within the South, I feel like I understand the environment of Maycomb, Alabama through Harper Lee’s words.  

The story deals with deep-seated racism, coming of age, gender, false accusations, and poverty, not to mention themes that (according to the story itself) are inappropriate for young ears. That’s even more amazing when you consider that the story itself is told from the perspective of a 6-year-old girl. 

With that being said, I’m very curious how this book is presented in the current American education system. The book examines issues from the perspective of a handful of children in the 1930s American Deep South, struggling to understand the world and asking questions that are natural for children who don’t know any better. 

Ahem… The book uses the language of the 1930s Deep South as well. 

The main character, Scout, uses that language and her father Atticus puts a stop to it immediately, but still the language is there. 

I’m not making a comment on the word itself, but I can’t help but imagine that simply reading the words on the page out loud would leave a teacher in a very vulnerable spot. A discussion of the themes of the book might cause trouble too. The simple statement that “racism is bad” is safe, but there are other aspects of the trial of Tom Robinson that, to use the language of the day, might be “problematic” in current culture. There’s also the fact that young people usually lack the context to understand the subtlety of deeper themes. 

The poetry or irony of using a book that explores deep cultural themes from the perspective of a child is not lost on me when I ask the following question. Should To Kill A Mockingbird be part of the curriculum of public schools? Are public school teachers in a safe environment to guide young minds through these issues? If so, should teachers get a I-Was-Only-Quoting-From-The-Text-Please-Do-Not-Fire-Me-For-Doing-My-Job Card? I would love to hear your thoughts. 

To Kill A Mockingbird is actually the fourth book I’ve read this year. If you’ve got any suggestions for other books, I would love to hear them since I’ve decided to read 100 books in 2019. If you want to see this year’s list, just check out

Again, To Kill A Mockingbird is a great book and I think everyone should read it at some point. If you’re looking for books like To Kill a Mockingbird, I would recommend The Lord of the Flies, which is another required-reading novel that is probably lost on teenagers. Last year, I did read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was very good. The author Truman Capote may or may not have been fictionally inserted into To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, who was his childhood playmate. 

I actively do not recommend Go Set A Watchman, which is the “recently discovered” sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, but that’s a story for another time. 

Keep it real.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Voted America’s Best-Loved Novel in PBS’s The Great American Read

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep South—and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred

One of the most cherished stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

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