Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, isn’t just classic literature. It’s one of the few remaining things that has the ability to unite Republicans and Democrats. But now, one Mississippi schoool district has pulled the book from its eighth-grade curriculum.
Losing A Classic Text
To Kill A Mockingbird teaches us that doing what is right is not always the same thing as doing what is popular.
The story is narrated by “Scout” Finch, and tells the tale of Tom Robinson. Tom is a black man falsely accused of rape in 1930s Alabama, and Scout’s father Atticus is a local lawyer. Atticus faithfully performs his duty as Tom’s defense attorney, despite the hate he receives from the people of the fictional town Maycomb. Atticus is able to prove Tom’s innocence, but the racist climate of the time still leads to a guilty verdict. Tom is ultimately shot dead trying to escape from prison.
Many people have read the classic as it is part of middle or high school English classes across the country. This has led to Atticus Finch becoming one of the most beloved characters in American literary history.
… Unless, of course, you are from Biloxi, Mississippi. The Biloxi School District voted to shelf the classic because some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable.”
Newsflash for the Biloxi School District and the compliant filers that pushed for this: To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t a nice story. It’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. If the conviction of an innocent man based solely on his race does not make you feel uncomfortable, then there is something morally wrong with you. As for the language, it is a book set in Alabama in the 1930s. The book’s use of the “N word” is historically accurate.
History is full of unpleasant stories. It is full of repugnant people doing repugnant things. Simply ignoring them does not mean they never happened.
Furthermore, feeling uncomfortable is how you learn. Studying the unpleasant parts of history is what helps us develop our beliefs. They force us to consider how to prevent evil things from rearing their ugly head again.
Imagine going through school and never feeling challenged. There is a word for that, but it is certainly not education. Call it sheltering, coddling, indoctrination, or whatever else, but it does not make for a healthy republic. The hostility to diverse viewpoints on college campuses today did not come about randomly.
Learning from Literature
Many of the most popular books challenge our thinking in fundamental ways. 1984 conveys the message of concentrated state power and what happens when a society rids itself of individuality. Lord of Flies will make you question everything you thought you believed about human nature. To Kill a Mockingbird is no different.
None of these books are “comfortable” books, but there is a reason they are taught in schools across the country.
Ironically, the Biloxi School District has shelved a book that highlights the dangers of preconceived biases and a lack of independent thinking because it might make some people feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the same way that maybe, just maybe, the fact that the black man was innocent and the white woman was lying should have made the jury in the book uncomfortable as well.