Mississippi to resume teaching ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

(Image: HarperCollins Publishers)

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi school district will resume teaching “To Kill A Mockingbird” after the book was pulled from a junior high reading list.

The Sun Herald reports that Biloxi School District administrators removed the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum earlier this month after the district received complaints that some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable.”

School officials said they’ll begin teaching it again in class starting Monday. Students, however, have to ask to participate and return a permission slip signed by a parent.

The school district had become the focus of a national public outcry when it pulled the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, which deals with racial inequality in a small Alabama town.

On Biloxi Junior High School letterhead, Principal Scott Powell wrote on Oct. 23 to eighth-grade parents: “As has been stated before, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is not a required read for 8th Grade ELA (English Language Arts) students. However, 8th Grade ELA teachers will offer the opportunity for interested students to participate in an in-depth book study of the novel during regularly scheduled classes as well as the optional after school sessions …”

The intensive book study will not take place every day, the letter states, “but we plan to finish the novel before Christmas break.”

The principal also tells parents that the students will write an argumentative essay and discuss comparisons of characters and events between the book and the 1960s film.

Students who don’t want to read “To Kill A Mockingbird” will be given another assignment that keeps them on track for class and state assessments. They will have a different topic for their argumentative essay.

Biloxi received letters as diverse as one from an 11th-grade Advanced Placement language class in Tenafly, New Jersey, that urged Biloxi to continue teaching the book and one from the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut.

The 11th-graders appealed to each Biloxi School Board member not to remove the novel.

“These derogatory and offensive words are powerful; they make people uncomfortable because they are painful to hear. However, it is critical that discrimination, offensive language and racism are discussed in the classroom,” the students wrote. “We need a book like ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ to illustrate the extreme prejudice that existed in our country’s past and to help start a conversation about the issues that sadly still exist today.”

The Mark Twain House sent an offer of help teaching racially controversial material. That organization has expertise, resources and experience helping educators and other entities teach difficult subject matter.

“Great literature makes us uncomfortable. It changes how we think, forcing us to analyze our established points of view,” the letter stated. “Guiding students through that process is, as you know, a key element of middle-school literary studies. … These books should build empathy, and not be used to single out classmates.”