Mississippi School District Kills the Mockingbird…then Revives it

Earlier this month, a Mississippi School District in Biloxi pulled the literary classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” After receiving complaints about the books language, which features the N-word, the school decided to remove it from the curriculum. Kenny Holloway, vice president of the Biloxi School Board said, “There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.”

Harper Lee’s novel has been a part of school curriculum for a number of years, and this is not the first time something like this has happened. Despite the success the book received after its release, including winning a 1961 Pulitzer Prize, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the most frequently censored novels in education. Schools banning the book have claimed the novel is immoral, conflicts with community values or is inappropriate because of the use of racially charged language. Lee’s book takes place in Depression-era Alabama, where young Scout Finch is exposed to harsh racism as her father Atticus, a lawyer, defends a black man falsely accused of rape. “By removing ‘Mockingbird’ Biloxi has missed a wonderful opportunity to have a frank discussion with their children why ‘reasonable people go stark raving mad,’” the board wrote, citing a popular quote in the book. “Perhaps if we talked about race more there would be fewer people cavalierly tossing out hurtful racist language.” The Biloxi school board reasoned that the book didn’t belong in classrooms because it causes discomfort, but students should be uncomfortable with racism and the people who are free to propagate it.

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has been around for a while and it’s been under attack since it first came out,” says James LaRue, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which compiles the annual lists of challenged books. “The reasons for it have changed over the years. The truth of it is, what people don’t like is the very unflattering portrayal of racial conflict in America, and I think that’s the thing that makes people uncomfortable.”

“But that’s the job of classics,” LaRue adds. “They are supposed to make us uncomfortable.”

Christina Torres, an English teacher in Hawaii who has taught the book for four years, emphasized in an Education Week post that the book’s use of the N-word is supposed to nudge students out of their comfort zones, as is education in general. “I feel uncomfortable every time I say the N-word while reading,” she wrote about reading the book aloud to her students. “And I should feel uncomfortable. The word is heinous and designed to cause discomfort. The thing is, if I don’t name that struggle with my students, they lose the opportunity to learn about the gravity of that word, where it comes from, and why it shouldn’t be used.”

Due to the power of the internet, one person after another gave their testimonies such as LaRue and Torres did, and now the book is back. But there is a catch. Parents must sign a permission slip in order for their children to participate in the reading. On the Biloxi Junior High School letterhead, Principal Scott Powell wrote on Oct. 23 to eighth-grade parents: “As has been stated before, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is not a required read for 8th Grade ELA (English Language Arts) students.” Powell goes on to say, “However, 8th Grade ELA teachers will offer the opportunity for interested students to participate in an in-depth book study of the novel during regularly scheduled classes as well as the optional after school sessions …”

To recap, the book was abruptly taken away, the internet caused an uproar, and now the book is back but students must get permission before being allowed to read it. Who knows how long it will be until it’s taken away again, or until every school adopts this form thinking. Will this effect any of the students who aren’t allowed permission? What should the other students read? Tell us your thoughts. For more information please visit the sources below.