How ironic is it that, just as the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week comes to a close, news should surface that Canada’s largest schoolboard is considering removing a classic piece of literature from its schools. The Toronto District School Board has been asked to review To Kill a Mockingbird after receiving a complaint from a parent of a student at Malvern Collegiate.
It’s important to note that the book has not been banned. The school board, which is ultimately responsible to the parents, has received a complaint and has an obligation to respond. There is no indication that the book will be banned, and earlier Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale survived a similar challenge. Unfortunately, other school boards in the GTA have also considered bans against To Kill a Mockingbird, and some, like a school in Brampton, has scrapped the book from its grade 10 English course.
The reason for the objections is the same: the use of the N-word in the narrative, and given how loathesome the word is, I can understand how some parents might be shocked by that word and want to avoid its use. However, I read To Kill a Mockingbird and watched the movie adaptation starring Gregory Peck back during my high school days. As far as I can recall, the N-word is typically spouted either by people who don’t know better (but learn) or, more importantly, by individuals who are outright antagonistic to the hero. To put it bluntly To Kill a Mockingbird is a story about racism in a racist time, and it takes the view that such racism has to be confronted and fought, even by a man standing alone against a backward-looking system. This is a good lesson to teach our kids. What sort of disservice are you doing them if you sugar-coat the evil that must be fought, here?
Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird deals with tough subjects, but isn’t that the point of education? What will our kids learn if their subjects aren’t tough enough?