Pop the Bubble

As most of you know, I am a recovering journalist who deeply appreciates the old adage that if you’re not rocking the boat, you’re not doing your job. When journalists don’t ask difficult questions, they don’t just fail their readers, they fail democracy.

This philosophy also informs the way I teach. Although I insist on civil discussions, I assign material that can confront pleasant sensibilities. The classroom can be an ideal place to learn how to disagree with peers and authority figures in a respectful manner–which is why the Biloxi School District’s decision to pull To Kill A Mockingbird from its middle school curriculum perplexes me. Does the district bubble wrap students during recess? Are they afraid that being challenged is the same thing as being scorned? Do they give high school diplomas, or school participation trophies? Without learning how to confront adversaries in a civil manner–that is, without learning to behave as Atticus Finch behaves–no education is complete.

Harper Lee’s book, of course, is racially charged.

So is everything else in Mississippi.

Discussing either the novel or the state’s affairs requires all sorts of discretion and empathy, which are skills that good teachers model, and that good school districts encourage.

Update: The school district reversed itself and decided to include To Kill a Mockingbird in its curriculum. Good for them.

This entry was posted in Books, Education, Race in Mississippi. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Pop the Bubble

  1. Kaelon McNeece says:

    To shed possible light on the topic, I discussed this very issue with a fellow MSMS student with friends in the Biloxi School District that have gotten a first-hand experience of the issues surrounding the removal of “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the curriculum. It was not the book itself causing the discord in Biloxi, it was the students themselves. When faced with hard-hitting issues such as rape, racism, prejudice, and justice (or the lack of) present in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, some students behaved rather inappropriately, causing other students to become uncomfortable. In this scenario, the responsibility lies directly upon the hands of the school system to decide the best course of action, and when complaints were received about racism caused by the introduction of the novel, the Biloxi Public School district thought it best to simply remove the book from the curriculum rather than directly punish the students responsible for the uncomfortability of others.

    I do not believe that the course of action taken by the Biloxi Public School district was correct in their decision since they favored a simple removal of subject material rather than attempting to maintain a better control of the classroom. By choosing to remove what started the entire debacle, the school system is doing nothing to prevent the actions that were the issue in the first place, and the school system will ensure the possibility that inappropriate, demeaning behavior from students will continue. This rises a different problem though as while the Biloxi School District is essentially sheltering children from possibly offensive material that will be encountered in the “real-world”, Biloxi hasn’t actually solved the underlying problem which is that bullying will only continue when the students involved are given the opportunity again.

    To address the presented debate though, I believe that sheltering students from real-world issues that are guaranteed to be encountered and preventing the concept of open debate with peers and educators does nothing but damage the school, the students, and the future of the community. By sheltering the students from the racist ideas portrayed (but not spoken highly of) in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the Biloxi School District only presents a partial education that lacks in thorough debate skills, realization of controversial problems existing in modern society, and the general knowledge they will need to thrive in a culture of differing opinions.

  2. Dev Jaiswal says:

    I think that learning to have a respectful confrontation with an individual who does not share your same opinions is an essential skill to communicate with a wide group of people. Most people will not agree with you on every debatable issue in the world, and if someone does, the chances of having a meaningful conversation with that individual are slim. Learning to advocate your belief systems is important and schools should help students learn to communicate their ideas effectively. Being challenged by school curriculum or one’s peers helps an individual’s personality come out and shine. I do not agree with the banning of To Kill a Mockingbird and I believe that schoolchildren should be exposed to it, even if administrators believe students shouldn’t read a novel where negro is used to refer to African-Americans and a court trial involves a white woman claiming she was raped by a black man. To Kill A Mockingbird’s characterization of social injustices still prevalent to this day and its messages of embracing our differences, learning to understand the personalities of those around us, and courageously seeing a task through even though you know you are beat before you start far surpass any racial or sexual offenses dissenters cite as reasons for banning it.

  3. Not all difficult questions asked are good questions. Usually, the sensible questions that give insight on an event regardless of its difficulty to answer is most likely a good question to ask. Questions that are normally difficult to answer normally engage the audience with new information to take in and accept; sometimes, the information from the difficult question that was answered can conceal within them harsh truths about the world, people, beliefs, and society overall. If the question is sensible and has a chance that holds an answer that offers insight on something delightful or dissembling, it is a good question to ask regardless of its difficulty to answer.

  4. Tija J. says:

    I cant find a reason that To Kill a Mockingbird should be taken off the reading list within this school district. The excuses made by the school district of discomfort isn’t enough in my opinion to be pulled from the reading list. The issues addressed in that book are still very relevant in today’s society. If school is preparation for the “real world,” then school officials shouldn’t sugar coat “real world” issues. One of the reasons mentioned that cause discomfort was the usage of the N word, yet the N word is still used in today’s society so that should be addressed. The book is a great read and the plot teaches you lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom.

  5. Zion Hargro says:

    Terms: race and discrimination. Definition: words that make people cringe at the though of discussing the topics. In my opinion, race and discrimination has made the America we know of today. Race is impossible to ignore in a America that is, according to the July 2016 U.S. Census 76.9% Caucasian, 17.8 % Hispanic or Latino, and 13.3% African American. The act of discrimination is hard to rebel from when there are 7 different races in America, and over 7 million multiracial people.

    We cannot simply just ignore the fact that African Americans were slaves in America for 246 years, and the battle for equality and civil rights is still prominent today. Having a conversation about how slaves were beaten, raped, and how African Americans were treated unfairly in the years post-slavery makes everybody uncomfortable, no matter the race. In the Biloxi School District’s administrative bodies, according to The Sun Herald, removed the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum earlier this month after the district received complaints that some of the book’s language, specifically the repetitive use of the “n-word” makes people uncomfortable.


  6. Thu-Hash-Slangin-Poodler says:

    Mississippi is a state consumed by the racial hang-ups of antiquity. How is the state suppose to surmount these long held prejudices when the state curriculum itself is forcing them onto the youth of Mississippi. Removing to kill a mocking bird from the curriculum was a fantastic first step along the path of civil progress. We began our fight for civil rights, in earnest, in the early 1960’s, and now we’ve finally made it all the way here! Hopefully the next great forward-looking politician will not only have racist materials removed from the curriculum, but gathered together in a large pile in front of a fallen veterans monument, along with any state/national flags they can get their hands on, and burn them!!….for civil rights! Embrace the Revolution Comrades

  7. Kendra Bradley says:

    I believe that this is a cheap way for teachers to hide present-day racism. There are many adults in Mississippi that refuse to admit that there is any racism currently, or even that it was a problem to begin with (e.g. the Civil War, which some still say was about states’ rights and not slavery). When reading To Kill a Mockingbird, teachers are forced to discuss racism in the South and likely answer questions about racism that they may be uncomfortable answering. But without showing the students this side of the South in the education environment, the students are being sheltered from this abrasive side of history. In the real world, racism is still prevalent. The students will experience it in one way or another. Some of the students may have been raised with racist parents and may act similarly, just because they haven’t realized it’s wrong (because mommy is always right, isn’t she?) And besides, if you feel completely comfortable in English class, is it really English class?

  8. Kerrigan Clark says:

    I believe that schools are babying the kids of today because of all of the racial and gender tension that is present in today’s society. They are scared of the the backlash of either the kids parents or the kids themselves. Or the teachers are scared of introducing ideas to kids that could change their viewpoints and have them think in different ways. For example, schools also shield kids eyes and ears from discussing sex and planned parenthood because they don’t want to introduce these ideas to kids. I believe that like planned parenthood and sex, kids should be introduced to racial ideologies in schools, so that they are able to have healthy discussions. This will also help them to develop strong argument skills that they will need in the near future.

  9. Alex Jones says:

    Schools today have been deeply effected by a new wave of political correctness. This is to say, people today try to be the least offensive as possible. These types of people are making our society weak and in my opinion are destroying it by creating a new generation of entitled and easily hurt children. These are going to be the adults of the future, and if we do not do something now, what will happen to society? Will we punish someone for accidentally saying something that may or may not even have any value other then what was said? Are we going to start applying meaning to words and is this the end of free speech? If this trend continues, I think so.

  10. Alexz Carpenter says:

    The modern education system, as well as the rest of the world, has become obsessed with being politically correct. No one wants to hurt any feelings, or offend anyone. I feel like this mentality that has been progressing through the pass few years is significantly harming students in the education system. Students should be able to get into a civil argument and learn from opponents rebuttals. Although the school is now including the book on the reading list, this is not the only place it is happening. The school system is teaching students to not be confident in themselves and never speak out in what they believe in. The school system is enabling the snowflake mentality in students. We are becoming a nation that cannot handle verbal confrontation. I hope not only in the school system, but in the nation we might change, although it is extremely unlikely.

  11. Arin Kelly says:

    In today’s education system, schools try to shelter children from the “bad” parts of history. Instead, we should be encouraged to study ALL history; most of history is violent, graphic, cruel, etc. This does not mean that our students should not be taught what happened in the past. Racial issues are a large part of Mississippi history and are still very prevalent in today’s world. The more we shelter children and try to hide the ugly, the more ugly will show up. If we do not expose these students to the evil and danger of racial tension, Mississippi will continue to be a racist state.

  12. Indu Nandula says:

    Harper Lee’s book may be racially charged, but isn’t our entire world racially charged? By pulling To Kill a Mockingbird from the curriculum, the school district is essentially claiming that they want to “shield” their students from the ideas of racism and racial conflict. But living in MS, these ideas are inevitable. Students need to exposed to these ideas in a literary setting, so they can see how to deal with real life instances of the same kind, a la Atticus Finch. Furthermore, by hiding their students behind a veil of ignorance, the district is inhibiting their students’ abilities to engage in peaceful confrontation. In this day and age, all students see is violence. What should you do if someone says something about your boyfriend? Duh, you go sock them in the gut. This is all students see, and it is all they know. By hiding the ideas of peaceful confrontation in the light of conflict, the district is hurting its student population more than it is helping them.

  13. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, during my 9th grade year, became my class’s reading for the first nine weeks. The book allowed my class to enter a new genre of books where racism and violence became an underlying issue that was buried inside a great deal of other issues. My class was allowed to view a play based on John Grisham’s A Time to Kill where rape and violence were the prevalent factors in the story. Without the opportunity to read To Kill a Mockingbird, I would have missed out on being able to understand the deeper meanings behind books that relate to To Kill a Mockingbird.

    The Biloxi School District’s decision to remove To Kill a Mockingbird from their curriculum is a deprivation of literature for future generations. The decision to remove the book stemmed from a slew of racist slang that was thrown around at their school. The book did not cause the racism, in fact, it downplays racism and supports collaboration. The book itself may contain racist terms, but the point of the racist terms in the book is to emphasize the time period and to educate children by providing an in-depth example of the time. Although the book being removed may be their decision alone, I believe it is the opposite of what should be done to encourage future generations of students to overcome racism.

  14. Khytavia Fleming says:

    There isn’t anytime for babysitting middle school students, and keeping a curtain over their eyes isn’t going to help them in the future either. These children are now over halfway to receiving their diploma, and treating them like infants isn’t going to make their journey any easier. Students have a right and a need to know what the real world is like. Making up fantasies to keep them protected from what the world actually offers is going to tear them to shreds when they find out it was all a lie. I say schools should inform their students that their are rapists, predators, robbers, molesters, racist people, serial killers, etc in the world. They need to be prepare because an ” I was just trying to protect them” isn’t going to cut it when something horrific happens to them because they were not informed.

  15. Sabrina Solomon says:

    Popping the bubble might not be all that bad in a controlled environment where no one will have their thoughts overlooked, but there is no ideal situation where everyone in the room is comfortable talking about controversial topics. I enjoy that your classroom is a place where we can speak on controversial topics, but not all people are comfortable talking in front of their peers about sex/death or both.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I can see why the school wants to take the book out of the lesson plan, but I do not agree with the decision. The school should not shield the students from topics they are going to experience themselves. Society is going to find a way to intertwine racial topics in everyday life. In the article, it says “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” Those children are in the eighth grade. I’m sure they have either said those words or heard them. There are many schools that used To Kill a Mockingbird to teach about racial issues, including my school. After the discussion, we valued each other’s different views on the book. We also respected each race and their opinion on the book. The book is very helpful in teaching those racial issues.

  17. Lane Hughes says:

    To Kill A Mockingbird was one of my favorite books in middle school. One of the reasons I liked it so much was because everybody in the South had to read it for school, so everybody had an opinion on the book, which opened up many conversations. To think that kids now wouldn’t have been able to experience this type of conversation is appalling, to say the least. This book also helped me overcome some general issues I had with language by giving a definition of the “N-word” and making me realize that it wasn’t something that needed to be said, ever. This realization helped me separate from some key issues (people) in my life, which has impacted me greatly. While I don’t think I know of any other people who have been affected as greatly as I have by this book, it would be an absolute tragedy to not let kids have the chance to figure that out for themselves.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Removing “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” from the reading list shows how the Biloxi Public school district are hindering the students that decide to attend there. The book does confront racial injustice, prejudice, rape, and many other aspects. But just because these ideals are included within the book doesn’t make it a “bad” book for students to read. Being confronted early on with these issues and learning how to confront them respectfully will help students later on in life. In modern day society, the differing opinions and controversial perspectives are very prominent. The general knowledge and guided discussion of these very things will aid in the realization of these issues. Tackling issues head on like these with students will make it easier to for students because they will learn how to voice their opinions without displaying ignorance. In addition, they will learn how to tolerate and respect opinions of others, even if they do not match their own.

  19. Sophia Pepper says:

    Book banning is quite a traditional way to limit conflict between those in power and their subjects to maintain a dying grasp upon the control of tradition and the narratives spoken. After all, a large portion of the south appears to prefer to pretend as though there has never been and is no racism in anything southern.

  20. Anonymous says:

    We worry too much about offending someone, this is probably the reason in which the ACT reading portion is so bland. And as for the language, I’m sure these students have probably heard worse. We need to stop sheltering our students.

  21. Theresa Ho says:

    Having read the book in middle school, I did not think it was all that bad. I do understand why it would be offense, but I believe that its more of the adults that care about how racial it is than the kids that are actually reading it. These kids probably heard and read things that are far worse than To Kill a Mockingbird, so I disagree in removing the book from the curriculum because it is pointless, these kids need to learn about these topics and about the realities of the world.

  22. Theresa Ho says:

    Having read the book in middle school, I did not think it was all that bad. I do understand why it would be offensive, but I believe that its more of the adults that care about how racial it is than the kids that are actually reading it. These kids are not stupid, and I believe these adults are underestimating them. Removing the book from the curriculum was pointless because these kids need to learn about these topics and about the realities of the world eventually so why not now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *