The Biloxi, Mississippi Board of Education voted to remove To Kill A Mockingbird from their school district curriculum. The vice chair of the Biloxi Board of Education said they made that decision because reading the book made people uncomfortable and other books can give students the same message of empathy as To Kill A Mockingbird does.
Teaching literature is not about making students comfortable.
The wonder of great literature is that it often does make us uncomfortable, and, from that uncomfortableness, we learn and grow. Great literature is not a pacifier but rather a stimulus for thinking and rethinking and rethinking.
Let’s hope that taking the book out of the curriculum will motivate the students to read it on their own. There’s nothing like banning a book to make it popular.
It is unfortunate, though, that those 8th graders will not have the benefit of discussing the intriguing ideas and questions that the book suggests with others in their class who have also read it. And those who banned To Kill A Mockingbird had better start checking out Shakespeare because there is a more in his plays than in To Kill A Mockingbird to make people uncomfortable, such as teenagers deceiving their parents, all kinds of sexual misconduct, cheating, lying, murdering family members, committing suicide, plotting treason, and being a racial bigot.
Teaching literature is not about preaching messages of good behavior.
Students have homes and churches and synagogues and mosques where they can receive lessons about how to live their lives. Reading literature is not for the purpose of giving students moral lessons.
Instead, we teach literature because reading literature gives students strategies for critical and creative thinking that no other kind of reading offers them, because literature brings up the pivotal questions of the human experience, and because literature shows students the power and beauty of language. Reading literature is not like reading for information; the intention of the writer doesn’t matter. Literature is not about giving easy answers but about raising provocative questions for readers to explore. As they read literature, students learn to interpret actions and to evaluate ideas from a broad range of perspectives. Students create their own meaning as they interact with a literary text. They also recognize the precision of a word and the magnificence of a sentence as they meet the minds of the writers.
What then about this book banning?
I once read that The American Library Association surveyed high school graduates about the book they found the most meaningful in their high school years. The winner: To Kill A Mockingbird. As a teacher and English curriculum leader of many years, I believe it.
So it is sad that the students of Biloxi, Mississippi will not be allowed to read To Kill a Mockingbird. What is even sadder is that their education is in the hands of people who have no clue as to why we read literature. Shame on the Board of Education for making the decision. Shame on the school administration if they don’t fight the decision. Shame on the community if it doesn’t rise up and demand better for its children.