Why Was ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Removed From the 8th Grade Curriculum in Biloxi?

The curriculum for eighth graders in Biloxi, Mississippi, will no longer include Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” because the school district received complaints from some parents about the novel’s use of the ‘N’ word and other racial epithets.

Kenny Holloway, the vice president of the Biloxi School Board, made the announcement:

“There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books. It’s still in our library. But they’re going to use another book in the eighth-grade course.”

The decision was made by the district and not voted on by the school board, as is usually the case with such rulings.

The novel is set in the Depression in a small town in Alabama where Tom Robinson, a black man, is falsely accused of raping a white woman. Published in 1960, it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction the following year and in 1962 was adapted for the movies, where it subsequently won an Oscar.

Lee’s book has sold over 40 million copies since 1960 and has been translated into 10 languages. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is considered a gem of American literature.

Yet, as the American Library Association documents, the novel has also been banned numerous times, for reasons ranging from “blasphemous and undermines morality,” to “the book contains profanities and depicts premarital sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution,” and “because of the vulgar words used and the sexual exploits experienced in the book.”

As a ninth grade English instructor, I taught this book a few times. It’s not an easy novel: the first few chapters move very slowly and there are some issues with Atticus Finch, a white man, coming in to try and save the day and yes, it is disturbing. But because it is disturbing, it is also an important novel to introduce to young minds. Some of the most powerful classroom discussions of my teaching career have happened around this book.

Agood education should challenge students. Sometimes that may cause discomfort and force them to think through and recognize what they truly believe.

One of the greatest compliments I received as a high school English teacher was from a student who told me, “What I like about your classes, Ms. Molland, is that you don’t just teach us English, you teach us about life.”

Part of that is teaching students to develop critical thinking skills that they can take with them as they move beyond high school.

And far from comforting our young people, that means forcing them to look into those dark and confusing places so that as a class we can bring them out into the open and talk about them.

This is no easy task. Teachers need to spend time searching deep into their own beliefs and prejudices before they embark on teaching this novel, or indeed any other. It’s also important to create strict rules about how discussions are to proceed and conclude; Teenagers can get very passionate about perceived unfairness.

My ninth graders got furious and upset and sad at the story of Tom Robinson and the injustices he faced in spite of being clearly proven innocent. It’s not that I wanted to make my students sad or uncomfortable, but the reality is that in our society today, examples of unequal treatment of people whether based on race, skin color or gender are all around us.

We owe it to our students to bring these issues to the forefront and instigate debates with them in a reasoned fashion.

The oft-quoted line from Atticus Finch, the lawyer representing Robinson, as he talks to his daughter Scout, still holds true today: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view [] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

As The Sun Herald published in an editorial on October 13,

“By removing ‘Mockingbird,’ Biloxi has missed a wonderful opportunity to have a frank discussion with their children why ‘reasonable people go stark raving mad.’ Perhaps if we talked about race more there would be fewer people cavalierly tossing out hurtful racist language.”

If you agree that Biloxi is making a serious mistake, please sign the Care2 petition asking them to reconsider.

Photo Credit: Jose Sa

54 comments

Kathryn I
Kathryn I1 months ago

Since I live in Gulfport, which is the next town west of Biloxi, saw in the local newspaper just this afternoon that, in fact, the Biloxi School System WILL NOT ban "To Kill a Mockingbird," thankfully. As so many people already know, this is too great a Classic to be discarded. Thank you!

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I1 months ago

Living in the next town west of Biloxi (Gulfport), I can attest to the fact that the so-called "educators" of the Biloxi School System want to ban this great Classic in their efforts to keep our kids ignorant and bigoted--ya' know, to keep the "tradition" going. This form of mentality is the problem with this entire State, and why MS is the laughing stock of this entire Country. They don't want the students to know the truth of this State's (and the entire South, for that matter!) history of White Supremacy, but instead, keep it hidden from them. I have news for this State! The bold and bigoted history of anti-black, anti-Semitism, and anti-everything/everyone, who doesn't look like them or think like them is a harsh reality, which the rednecks of the South have brought upon themselves, leaving their equally-ignorant ancestors to now want to slip the truth "under the rug," so to speak; as such, their youth should be mandated to learn of what heinous acts their forefathers committed!! Just because it's an ugly past is no reason to prevent their youth from becoming educated about it. They should have thought of what their children may have to find out before putting their backward mentalities into action by lynchings, turning water hoses onto Blacks in the streets., etc. I have two grandsons, who attend the Biloxi School System, and more than likely, I will be paying the top Administrators of that facility a visit; I have a str

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Misss D
Misss D1 months ago

Well said Marianne C. If the/any school wants to remove something from their curriculum,, it's their business, no matter what the reason is.. Anne, if a school wants to remove a book from the curriculum, it is everyone's business...

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Marianne C
Marianne C1 months ago

Because the real evil in the book came not from a black man, but from white men who abused their own children. Bob Ewell had sex with his own daughter and meant to murder Atticus' children, had not a mentally ill man risked his own life to stop the crime. Nathan Radley abused his son, then kept him locked up and imprisoned until his mind snapped.

It wasn't the defending of an innocent black man that was evil, nor the fact that Boo Radley was mentally ill. The real evil lay in the physical and emotional abuse Arthur "Boo' Radley's father had inflicted upon him, and in the sexual and violent abuse by the loathsome Bob Ewell and the subsequent lies told by him and his abused daughter. Harper Lee doesn't come out and say so, but one is left wondering if Ewell would have raped Scout, too, had Boo Radley not intervened. He left Jem crippled, and clearly had intended to kill him.

Old man Radley and the Ewells represented the worst of humanity -- and they were white.

Tom Robinson is the epitome of innocence and decency -- and he is black. His decent, hard-working family is black. They are, by every measure of humanity, morally and ethically superior to the Ewells and to old man Radley. And THAT is what they cannot tolerate in Biloxi.

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Winn A
Winn A1 months ago

They are still living in the 1850's . . . . . . . . . .

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Winn A
Winn A1 months ago

Petition Signed

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Rose R
Rose R1 months ago

JUST - PLAIN - SAD!!!

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I1 months ago

Petition signed. This is the most stupid idea that the school system could ever come up with. Thank you

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Julie W
Julie W1 months ago

Don't these parents realise that kids are not just left to read a book on their own - it gets discussed in the classroom. A good teacher would explain that the language is in the context of the times. To ban this book is rather like rewriting history - let's pretend people never talked or acted this way.

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Jaime J
Jaime J1 months ago

Thank you!!

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