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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Biloxi kids can read ‘Mockingbird’ — but should they?

To Kill a Mockingbird is back  in Biloxi schools— with parental permission — weeks after it was removed from the required eighth-grade curriculum, reports the New York Times. Someone had complained about “uncomfortable” language, apparently the use of the “n-word.”

Should Monster replace Mockingbird?

Biloxi Junior High Principal Scott Powell told parents that “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,” reports the Sun Herald. Students whose parents don’t give permission will read an alternate assignment.

Maybe its’ time to stop teaching Mockingbird, writes Alice Randall on NBC’s Think. She worries about teaching a text with racial slurs, but even more about encouraging “boys and girls to believe women lie about being raped.”

Randall  prefers a book that places black characters at the center of the action. “To Kill A Mockingbird is more than a book about race and injustice, and it is not the only book about race and injustice,” she writes. “In the 21st century, it may not be the best book to illuminate those themes, especially when it reinforces so many stereotypes and misconceptions many eighth graders are hardly equipped to consider.”

Take, for instance, Monster, a 1999 novel by award-winning African-American novelist Walter Dean Myers that also takes place in a courtroom. Here, however, the focus is on the young black defendant and narrator, Steve Harmon; the white lawyer, on the other hand, plays a lesser, but still complex, part. Monster is a complex and powerful modern classic that does much of the same work — providing a portrait of a young artist budding ethical integrity while confronting racism — as Mockingbird but does it with arguably more complexity.

I’m a fan of Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying, which is set in 1940s’ Louisiana. A black teacher is persuaded to teach a condemned youth to read before he’s executed, so he can die like a man.

Arguing about curriculum is healthy, writes Andrew Rotherham.  But it’s happening at a time when “identity” has become “an organizing principle on the political right and left.”

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