Why “To Kill a Mockingbird” should be taught

And the importance of trusting students to make their own decisions

The trial of Tom Robinson from the 1962 classic film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (Left to right: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson) Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The trial of Tom Robinson from the 1962 classic film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Left to right: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson) Courtesy of Universal Pictures

When Harper Lee set out to write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she wasn’t trying to write an average story that taught its lessons through peaceful encounters. It was meant to be controversial. It was meant to make the reader uncomfortable. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was written in 1960, during the peak of the civil rights movement, as Jim Crow laws were finally being deleted from the law books.

After having multiple districts in the nation take the novel off of their curriculum, Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Duluth, Minnesota, it is necessary to understand that the world isn’t always going to be a safe place; schools choosing to shield the children from the kind of language used in books like Lee’s are actually hurting them. It’s better to introduce the disturbing parts of life in a controlled classroom environment that helps prevent students from using the language and enables them to move past it if and when they encounter it in their lives.

The educational value of this book far outweighs the danger that the language used in the book poses. There’s a reason why the book won a Pulitzer after having spent 40 weeks on the bestseller list. Like the other great authors of that century, Lee’s novel helped open the eyes of the American people to the injustice that African-Americans had suffered for decades.

One of the many lessons that could be learned in this book is the fact that despite what Mayella Ewell’s has done during the course of “To Kill a Mockingbird” she is a person still worthy of compassion, and Harper Lee makes sure of that. Like most characters in fiction as well as real life, “Ms. Mayella is not entirely ‘evil’ (or evil at all). She is a multi-faceted human being who has as many positive sides as she does negative ones.”

Her one crime is one that Lee justifies. She is as much of a victim as Tom Robinson was. “What did her father do? We don’t know, but there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left…” (204, Lee). With it being implied that Bob Ewell had beaten his daughter at least once, it is only one step further to believe that Mayella feared him. Ms. Mayella Ewell has done what many ordinary people would do in that situation: they would surrender to their fears and hurt someone else, so that they may go unharmed.

Lee only wrote one character who is unredeemable, and that is Robert Ewell, who is just plain evil. Not only does Ewell know that he is committing a crime, he actively tries persecute an innocent man for his own crimes.

Whenever the potentially offensive language shows up, Lee would make sure to reinforce the fact that its usage is negative. If anyone seriously uses the N-word as an insult after reading this book, it wasn’t a result of the book.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a revolutionary novel which exposed the large glaring fault of racism in our society in the 1960s. This novel is now more relevant than ever with our country still dealing with segregation and discrimination, but it has managed to survive hidden under the radar. Students should be trusted to read this novel, understand its intricacies and the historical importance of racism, because of the tremendous effect it has had on our society as a whole.