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Writers Against Racism: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

It’s true…

I am on spring break! Whoo hoo!!!

And while on spring break, I am also re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. 

TKAM has not been an easy feat; just ask my mom. Each day I ask her, is it me? This book is difficult! It got so bad the other night that in my dream, I heard someone – not sure who – say to me: "If students are using Sparknotes to understand the story, then they shouldn’t be reading it. There are parts of the book that need to be explained through a history lesson. There are also ways in which folks spoke to each other in the south, during those days."

My mother said, "watch the movie!" YIKES! Please don’t take me down that memory lane. I remember being in school, keeping my eyes closed – shut – during the movie.  I also shut down every time my teacher would ask for a volunteer to read aloud, because I HATED hearing the N-word. We never used that language in our home, and in a book, I felt like everyone was talking about ME.

Since that time, in 11th grade, I swore off the last "book of torture" that I would ever read. Maybe I was rebelling against what was considered a ‘classic’ and what was considered, to me, a reality insult. Even today people say to me, "well that is history, Amy, and you can’t hide from the truths." My answer, I like to read what is relevant to me. I also want my children to see the world in a more global picture, so they can see how lots of slices of a pizza make up a pie, not just one sliver. 

What I know so far is that Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Dill…I can not relate to, nor understand their language, so I am tempted to peek in Sparknotes. I guess that’s my fault.

Anyway, just so that it is clear, I have a great deal of respect for TKAM, but having read it when I was in 11th grade, left me horrified. Each day in class we were expected to read the story aloud, which made sense, because it was difficult reading. But each day, I would count the pages when the N-word was coming, and I knew I would be raising my hand to use the rest room. I wanted to crawl out of the classroom and I did. And while it was required reading, what are you going to do? I knew it was a ‘classic’ and I knew my opinion did not matter.

At the time, I found TKAM quite offensive, and because of the language and the role of stereotypical, southern black folks, I couldn’t appreciate the literary brilliance. Decades later…in comes my friend Arvind, over at 21 Apples, who writes a blog post…




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How can we evaluate curricula for bias and inclusivity?

Arvind writes, "I’ve recently been engaged in fascinating conversations about evaluating curricular resources for bias and inclusivity. These came out of a conversation on whether To Kill a Mockingbird was an appropriate text for 7th grade students. The books uses the ‘n word’ many times and portrays black characters are uneducated and poor (yes, I realize I’m being somewhat simplistic in my summary). The book is also a “classic” of “American” literature – I put both of those words in quotation marks because there are real questions as to whose classic and whose America."

All I know is…the book still makes me feel uncomfortable, and it’s not a book I would recommend for my own children to read – at this stage anyway. Perhaps when they are at the graduate level, and understand the evolution of blacks in America.

Also, I wouldn’t ban it! 


  1. B Herrera says:

    As an English teacher, I agree that To Kill a Mockingbird is not an easy story. My son’s eighth grade class read it, but they never made it all the way through. By exposing it to them at that age, the image they get of it is much like yours – too hard, too offensive, too much to handle. This is a book I defiinitly recommend for mature readers, on an individual basis. Although the story is important, it is definitely not light reading. I see it as a book to be used as a springboard to conversation and as a glimpse into some people of that time. It is never easy to go against “the group” at any time, but tragedies occur when we don’t fight wrong. Peer pressure and mob mentality always make us want to go along with the crowd. Only the few brave souls stand up to that crowd. That’s why it is so important that we create peer pressure which emphasizes hope instead of hate.

  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    B, I just finished reading TKaM for the second time and have so many thoughts that I will be blogging about – if you’ll bear with me. I am reading the reviews from that time, and realize that the stereotypes and language used was of the time. The relevancy today has to be taught in a way that is NOT traditional. Thank you for reading and helping me to fish through this deplorable part of our history.

  3. margaret says:

    Hi Amy. Wow, I’m sorry to hear that this book was so difficult for you, although I do understand why, I think. It is one of my favorite books! And one of my fav movies, too. Although the image of Atticus as “great white father” has always bothered me. I’d love to talk more about this with you…

  4. hi

  5. Hi…I have never replied to a Blog so I am hestitate to leave my comments. I have taught TKAM for over 20 years in my classes, but NEVER have I ever considered, even on my most liberal days, to teach TKAM to 7th and 8th graders! I teach this book at the sophomore and junior level for the very fact I live in a conservative community. I, as a teacher, feel our classroom discussion, which deal with tolerance, the “n” word, the limitations of civil rights in the 30’s, the Scotsboro Trials, etc, is not appropriate for a junior high audience. Personally, I think it is professional irresponsiblility to tackle this book in the junior high arena. That being said, some teachers are told what to teach and when…and I can select my books and do so very carefully. There are several themes and situations in this novel that I am uncomfortable with presenting to my upper level classes, but the conversation and I believe the need for tolerance is well worth my sweaty palms. I have yet to teach the perfect novel…There are many positives that come out of my classroom discussions and I hope that those that find discomfort will find the positive in the ultimate message this book has to offer.