Should ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ still be taught in schools?

Should To Kill A Mockingbird still be taught in schools?

Ikran Abdi

In my ninth-grade English class, I read To Kill A Mockingbird, much like many other American students. I was excited to read one of the most well-known books in America, especially since I’ve heard teachers praise the book since I was in middle school. However, when I completed the book, all I felt was a sense of disappointment. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is well written and contains essential subjects to discuss; nevertheless, it is not well taught in school.

To Kill A Mockingbird was written from the perspective of a 6-year-old girl whose father is portrayed as a hero for defending a black man in court. The story feeds into the white savior narrative that portrays Black people as helpless. This book is often taught in class so that students understand systemic racism, but ironically, the white character’s personal growth of understanding is at the center rather than Black people’s struggles with prejudice and racism.

This book can be taught well but it demands a careful approach in the classroom. For example, teachers could analyze the harmful narratives on race that are very outdated and teach students upfront that Atticus Finch is an example of a white saviour stereotype. Instead of having in-depth discussions about the book and its flaws, classrooms typically read it to help students understand systemic racism. Many impressionable students leave class seeing Atticus Finch as a role model and believing that Mockingbird is a good example of what racism was like in the 1930s, despite the fact that it was written by a white author from the perspective of a white kid.

Although To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most well-known classic works on the subject of racism, there are other books that students can read to understand racism and literary devices. For my choice novel assignment that same year, I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Caged Bird and Mockingbird are both set in the 1930s, but Caged Bird is written from the perspective of Maya Angelou, a dark-skinned Black woman living in the rural south. It is a heartbreaking book about Maya Angelou’s early upbringing that explores issues including identity, rape, racism, colorism, and living in a male-dominated culture. 

To Kill A Mockingbird is a fantastic novel, but reading it without delving into its shortcomings and studying how its ideas differ from now can do more harm than good. Also there’s always far better books tackling race from people of color that could be used in replacement as well.