The Mockingbird book continues to create concern for both proponents and critics of curriculum materials that enrich the learning process for our youth. Schools are choosing to distance themselves from using books that create uninvited complications. The Mockingbird book controversy provides schools an opportunity to reevaluate potential textbook problems.
According to the article, Mississippi school district’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ ban raises old censorship debate, a Mississippi School Board has decided to remove the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird from the eighth-grade curriculum. The Biloxi School District pulled the book from Language Arts classes due to complaints that some of the language in the book made some students feel uncomfortable.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family, her neighbors and an event that occurred near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1936, when she was 10 years old. The story is told by the six-year-old Jean Louise Finch.
In the story, Judge Taylor appoints Atticus to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a young White woman, Mayella Ewell. Although many of towns citizens disapprove, Atticus agrees to defend Tom to the best of his ability. Other children taunt Jem and Scout for Atticus’s actions, calling him a “nigger-lover”. This is the statement that can make students feel uncomfortable.
When the book was released, reviewers noted that it was divided into two parts. The first part of the novel concerns the children’s fascination with Boo Radley and their feelings of safety and comfort in the neighborhood. The second part of the novel deals with what book reviewer Harding LeMay termed “the spirit-corroding shame of the civilized White Southerner in the treatment of the Negro”.
In the years following its release, many reviewers considered To Kill a Mockingbird a novel primarily concerned with race relations. Claudia Durst Johnson considers it “reasonable to believe” that the novel was shaped by two events involving racial issues in Alabama. The first incident was Rosa Parks‘ refusal to yield her seat on a city bus to a White person, which sparked the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the 1956 riots at the University of Alabama after Autherine Lucy and Polly Myers were admitted to the university.
Schools can benefit from the Mockingbird book by evaluating other curriculum materials at all levels. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at 3,200 children’s books published in the United States last year, it found that only 14 percent had black, Latino, Asian, or Native American main characters. Meanwhile, industry data collected by publisher Lee & Low and others suggest that roughly 80 percent of the children’s book world—authors and illustrators, editors, execs, marketers, and reviewers are White. One book that has received much criticism is A Birthday Cake for Washington because it portrays slaves as being happy.
Schools can benefit from that Mockingbird book by ensuring that their librarians are sensitive enough to ensure that the library has an ample supply of diverse books that are used by teachers and the librarian.
Teachers and librarians can use the following as guidelines for selecting book:
- What percentage of books highlight minorities as heroes or the main character in a positive manner?
- What percentage of books highlight minorities as negative?
- What percentage of books degrade or use language that degrade the color black
- What percentage of books use the color white in a positive man
- What percentage of books highlight minorities as lazy, gang members, oversexed, or underemployed?
- What percentage of poor people are highlighted as invisible or passively needing help from others?
- What percentage of books highlight American Indians as living in teepees, carrying bows and arrows, or are half-naked in winter?
- What percentage of books highlight minorities as subservient?
- What percentage of books have a copyright older than 5 years?
The Mockingbird Book provides schools an opportunity to evaluate their curriculum materials to ensure that the lack of diversity does not complicate the education process.
All the best,
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
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