Why Schools Removing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Has Everybody Outraged

3 min


A school district in Biloxi, Mississippi, apparently run by people who aren’t teachers, has scrubbed To Kill a Mockingbird from its curriculum.

Vice President of the Biloxi School Board Kenny Holloway cites “people” being “uncomfortable” with some of the “language” presented in the timeless American classic. Who exactly is uncomfortable is unclear, but we can be pretty certain about the language they object to – To Kill a Mockingbird contains multiple instances of the “N” word, used by the novel’s racist characters.

However, as legions of Tweeters have pointed out, that feeling of discomfort is exactly why To Kill a Mockingbird needs to be taught in classrooms.

As anyone who’s ever analyzed a novel beyond the 7th grade level can tell you, the best books are the ones that make readers uncomfortable and force people to reconsider their perspectives. There is a lesson to be learned from discomfort with this story, and it is something that all students, of all races, should have to face.

To Kill a Mockingbird needs to be required reading in all high school English programs, for all time, until English evolves into an entirely new language tree. It’s too good, too complex, and such a necessary educational tool. Here’s why:

1. It’s an amazing piece of American literature.

There’s a reason Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for her work: it’s quite possibly the greatest American novel of all time. Lee is able to balance colloquial with smart and her prose is drenched in wit. Few novels have characters that are as alive as Scout, Dill, and Boo, and Atticus Finch is the definition of dignity.

Beyond its thundering call for racial justice, Mockingbird is a story of redemption, courage, and coming of age, and somehow wraps all of its numerous themes together in a deeply engaging and entertaining narrative that demands re-reading. It’s just one of the best books.

2. It introduces a range of complex themes.

As mentioned, there is more to To Kill a Mockingbird than a discussion of race; Scout is an intensely intelligent girl growing up in a man’s world. Boo Radley is an enigmatic figure turned hero. How alternately vile and sympathetic is Mrs. Dubose? And wrapping it all together is a profound entreaty for readers to be willing to see the world from someone else’s front porch. What other book teaches all of these things this well?

Ironically, the most intense and upsetting aspects of the story are vastly more disturbing than the “n-word”: there is an attempted lynching, characters who attack children, multiple violent deaths, and the implication that Mayella Ewell has been raped by her own father on multiple occasions. Notice that these themes are never the issue when a short-sighted school board pulls the novel.

3. Teachers need to teach it.

Supporters of the Biloxi district’s boneheaded decision are keen to remind observers that Mockingbird has not been banned; it is still available in school libraries. The obvious problem, however, is that so is every school newspaper and issue of National Geographic since 1982, but that doesn’t mean people are reading them.

To Kill a Mockingbird, especially for high school-aged readers, requires careful consideration and analysis, and casual readers who do make the rare and individual effort to check out the book on their own will miss the opportunity to parse the narrative with the help of a trained professional, as well as the rich classroom discussions the novel is sure to inspire. The idea that “we can teach the same lesson with other books” isn’t just laughable, it’s disingenuous.

To Kill a Mockingbird is more important than ever. America is in the throes of debate surrounding protesting quarterbacks, race-driven police brutality, and the place of immigrants in American society. If there ever was a book that could facilitate this vital national discussion, it is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.


Adam Hatch Bored Teachers

This article was written by Adam Hatch – UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.

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