In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout says early on in the story that she only heard her father Atticus say that one thing was a “sin.” Atticus said “remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The Biloxi School District appears to repentant sinner this month after it axed the Harper Lee classic because some parents complained about the book’s language. Despite being one of the most powerful works in history against racism, parents could not overcome the authentic Southern and racist lexicon of the period. News reports indicate that the problem was the use of the “n-word” in a Southern period where that word widely used.
The classic work had long been taught in Biloxi but was pulled it from the curriculum due to parental complaints. Kenny Holloway, vice president of the Biloxi School Board explained that “There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books. Really? What same lesson? The Harper Lee work is the lesson. It is a classic. Students read it to experience a towering classic of American literature. Like most great works, it is supposed to make people feel uncomfortable. It talks about institutionalized and culture racisms as well as poverty, rape, and hatred in our society. If you feel comfortable with such reading, you are not really reading it.
Nevertheless, Superintendent Arthur McMillan issued the same bureaucratic response that To Kill A Mockingbird is just another book and they have lots of books that make no one uncomfortable: “There are many resources and materials that are available to teach state academic standards to our students.” That is like saying that you can replace the Mona Lisa with Dogs Playing Poker because they are both paintings.
Lee’s Southern gothic novel won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962.
I have seen the same type of removal of classics in the classes of my own children in Fairfax County, Virginia. The kids once read the classic “Tale of Two Cities” but to achieve greater cultural diversity, the masterpiece was dropped in favor of an African novel that is no literary substitute.
The loss of an inspiring and classic work like To Kill a Mockingbird is a true tragedy for the students of Biloxi. Because of the utter lack of literary and historical appreciation of these parents (and the cringing compliance of District officials), students will not be exposed to a work that has shaped the minds for decades. As Atticus stated in the novel, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”