A Toronto-area professor has asked a local school board to reexamine its use of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in the classroom.
Carl James, a sociology and education professor at York University, argues all texts should be examined for their educational value in a modern context before they are taught to students, including classroom staples like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Every book that we bring into a classroom, we have to think of the implications this has for learning,” James told CTV News Channel. “Is this going to enhance learning, or is it going to be a barrier to learning? In that respect, we should look at all books and all texts to see the relevance and the significance of it.”
James recently sent a report on how best to support black students to the Peel Regional School Board, which represents the schools in Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga, and argued whether books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” should even be taught at all.
Harper Lee’s 1960 classic tale of racial injustice in the southern United States is a common addition to middle school and high school programs throughout North America, but its use in the classroom has been challenged in recent years over its use of a racial epithet.
James spoke to black students who read the book during a focus group last spring and found many of the students were hurt by the use of certain words and felt it has since come up more in regular conversation.
“We have to think about how the book probably legitimizes the word,” James said.
Two years ago, the Peel school board asked English teachers to consider using more culturally relevant books in the classroom and last summer suggested the book not be taught in high schools unless it can be taught in an “anti-oppression lens.”
James suggests the “Black Boy,” a 1945 memoir from black American author Richard Wright, would be a viable alternative.