WANG: Students need to read more historical truths, not less
Opinions Column: A Third Person Perspective
Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is an iconic classic within American literature. But the book is being removed from English curriculums around the country because of strong objections toward the content and language portrayed in the book.
Apparently, the racial and sexual themes of a novel — Lee’s ingenious way to address the sentencing of an innocent black man to death even before proven guilty — is something adults can’t handle. Adults can’t handle their children being exposed to the racism that defined America during the 20th century, which frankly, was not that long ago.
Chris Sergel, the vice president of Dramatic Publishing, has addressed that even though the company receives a plethora of requests to change or censor the novel, “Being uncomfortable with history is not means to change it.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly the way our generation seems to escape blame. Of course, people are uncomfortable with the confrontation of history. Of course, none of the textbooks that we ever encountered in our public education ever mentioned the mass-murder and genocide of Native Americans in order to build our vision of America. Of course, we conveniently glaze over the roots of white supremacy. We barely address the suffering of Black people who were lynched for simply walking down the street. But do we ever actually address the inhumanity of the KKK and allocate any actual fault and blame onto one of the first waves of white supremacy? No. They have simply become a detached piece of American history that we read over and nod our heads at, only to turn the page of the textbook and forget.
As a country, we have never stopped hiding behind our cowardice. Our inability to incorporate Lee’s take on the discriminatory and ignorant society that existed less than a century ago says a decent amount about our progress as a country. In fact, some of the notable “To Kill A Mockingbird” challenges and bans are justified with alarming reasons. For example, in 1980, the Vernon-Verona Sherrill School District in New York called the book “filthy” and “trashy.” In 1996, the book was banned in Lindale, Texas because it “conflicted with the values of the community.” Even more concerning is the fact that in 1981, the book was challenged by Black parents who believed it “institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.”
Just by looking at a few of these objections, we can discern a pattern of why this book has become such an issue for public education. It’s never just been about the book’s strong usage of profane language and racial slurs — which was a mere reflection of reality during the 20th century — but rather about adults who clearly never read the book for themselves, or those who did and still object to the book, and were still completely incapable of picking up on the message the book tried to convey.
In case any of these adults need a reminder as to what the book actually meant — or if you have deprived a student from learning about this book in school and they are actually interested in its content, a man named Atticus Finch is the lawyer of a black man, even though Atticus was aware of the outcome of the trial. Even though Atticus understands that society already made Tom Robinson into a guilty man, despite Tom actually being innocent, the color of his skin was enough for this white-dominated society to condemn him as a rapist. Sound familiar? Sound anything like the American way of wrongfully convicting Black people of crime more than any other race?
But the most compelling part of this book was Atticus’s determination to fight for Tom’s innocence. As futile as it may have been, it wasn’t just about proving a guilty man innocent but rather the principal of standing up for what you believe in, to effect change. It’s about setting a precedent. It’s about being ahead of your own time.
The bottom line: don’t condemn something simply because you don’t understand it. As a future teacher, I will make it my job to ensure that every single student understands what Atticus Finch represents. I will not mislead your kids. I will not permit the use of derogatory language, and I certainly won't tell them how they should use this book to overthrow the government. I’ll be there to teach them what it means to be an Atticus Finch in our society because honestly, I think that’s what we need.
Ashley Wang is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and minoring in philosophy. Her column, "A Third Person Perspective," runs on alternate Fridays.
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