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Why We Shouldn't Kill The Mockingbird

Thoughts on the Removal of the 60s Classic from an 8th Grade Reading List

Recently, the news broke that a Mississippi school has removed Harper Lee's classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, from its 8th-grade reading list. The reason? Its use of sensitive language is making students "uncomfortable."

If I were to sum up my thoughts up on this topic in a single word, it would be "deplorable," especially in the current social climate that is sweeping what seems like the entirety of the western world.

Literature is an important part of education; it can bring people together, give voice to emotions that people didn't realise were a normal part of growing up, and bring difficult moral and ethical concepts to the forefront of people's minds in digestible and understandable ways, ripe for discussion and dissemination.

With this in mind, surely when a book covers a controversial topic that has a modicum of relevance, it is only natural that it would bring a level of discomfort to some, if not all, of its readers. Why, then, is that suddenly "not okay?" 

To Kill a Mockingbird tackles a range of hard-hitting subjects that are wholly relevant today; racism, education, class, and the ethical and moral implications intrinsic to dealing with such things. 

The vice-president of the Biloxi School Board, Kenny Holloway, is quoted as saying that it is possible to "teach the same [lessons] with other books," assuring that Lee's classic will still be available in the school library. I'm not convinced that this is the case, though. To Kill A Mockingbird is not just valuable for the moral and ethical concepts that are at stake here; it's also the powerful voice of a female author, tackling the aforementioned topics in a book published in the 60s. In reality, this is not all that long ago, so surely the use of "uncomfortable" language in a publication so recent should be talked about in those classes alone, irrespective of the other contents of the book.

This leads me to ask what the point of education is if you don't explore the attitudes of the past through fact or fiction? If we stop telling our children about past atrocities, if we keep hiding behind others' hurt feelings, if we take offence on behalf of others, then all we are doing is putting our future in a thick layer of bubble-wrap to prevent bumps and scrapes. Organic matter will spoil under those conditions.

The present undercurrent of issues concerning censorship and the arguments that are surrounding the concept of free speech and what constitutes hate speech are a prevailing hot topic online and in a lot of people's social circles. With this in mind, what can we infer from the removal of To Kill a Mockingbird from this school's curriculum?

Of course, there will be people outraged, comparing this action to a book burning or calling it de-platforming. There will be people crying out that words — in this case, the infamous 'N' word — only hold the power that the speaker gives them. There will be others that refute these claims, too. They will fight for "outdated" materials to be replaced where possible. They will insist that trying to take away the power of a word that means so much to a certain culture does nothing but add to the systemic racism of it all. There are those who will claim that Harper Lee's voice being quieted is yet another slight by the Patriarchal White America, and those who agree but are also conflicted because they're not too sure about how okay it is for someone who is not a person of colour to be dropping the N-Bomb, even in an historical context. There are people who aren't even going to be aware of this change, and those who simply could not care less.

It is almost impossible to detach the decision to remove To Kill A Mockingbird from the school's reading list from the discourse between the political left and right. There was a point in time that discomfort in academia was important, where it was encouraged to step out of your comfort zone and engage with people who didn't necessarily agree with your point of view. Is this no longer as important as it was in bygone times? Has society reached a point where we no longer need to challenge ourselves in this manner? I'm not sure, but I know that this book means a lot to me, that it taught me a lot, and that if the removal of this book affects any more educational institutions I will endeavour to share it with my brothers, my sisters, and my future children. It is an amazing work of literature, and it deserves to be read. What better age to have the concepts it hits on brought to your attention than in your formative years, when you begin to form pivotal opinions and truly begin to grasp the wider world?

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