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Reader's Corner: To ban, or not to ban

Recently I watched an interesting video from Prager U, of two young men discussing Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Published in 1960, the book was widely read for many years in high school classrooms, and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in the 1962 movie was considered one of his most powerful performances.


However, to quote Prager U, TKAM “now comes with trigger warnings. The book, which confronts and calls out the evils of racism, is considered by some to be too offensive for our modern-day woke sensibilities. Why? Set in 1930s Alabama, a young girl watches her attorney father defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.”


Guest Derryck Green and Prager U’s Michael Knowles present a strong case that the book should still be required reading, in spite of the fact that it uses derogatory racial terms and describes some tense topics. I agree with Green and Knowles that the book is a powerful examination of timeless themes, and should be encouraged, not banned.


The book does indeed describe the U.S. “Jim Crow” South, using historically accurate language. But banning a book doesn’t make history go away; rather, it removes an opportunity for discussion, including what can be done to ensure such events do not happen again.


Certainly, “To Kill A Mockingbird” would not be a wise choice for elementary-age students—in addition to racial slurs, there are descriptions of violence and references to familial sexual abuse, as Atticus proves the young woman was assaulted not by the accused black man, but by her father. By the time students reach high school, though, many have encountered such unfortunate issues personally. Class discussion could lead to an attentive teacher recognizing a problem, or a student realizing their situation is not okay, as well as to positive steps in improving current culture.


There are many lessons to be learned from TKAM: In the video, Green and Knowles discuss the community of Christian fellowship as Scout visits a black church with Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper; Atticus’s profound statement that he can’t teach his children to do the right thing if he doesn’t do the right thing himself; and even a peek into developmental disability in the character of Boo Radley, as well as the discernment required of law enforcement officers. And that’s just a few.


Recently, through an online music teacher forum, my husband realized that a movie he and others have regularly shown in music appreciation classes, to demonstrate how music reflects surrounding culture, is being questioned—again due to historically accurate racial language and portrayal. After consideration, talking with other teachers, and even prayer, he showed the movie as usual, and was pleased when “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” was well-received by the students; he encouraged them to voice any concerns, but they seemed to focus on the musical aspects and just accepted the cultural references as the way things were then. Again, not a wise choice for elementary or even early middle school, but let’s not deny high school students the study of history.


Please note—this column is intended to generate thought about racial and social justice discussion raised by accurate teaching of history, not parental concerns about content, especially for younger children. Parents are encouraged to be aware of what their children are learning and get involved if they have concerns.

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