Earlier this month, a school board in Wisconsin did not bow down to political correctness and voted to keep the Harper Lee classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” in its ninth grade curriculum.
The final Monona Grove School Board vote was 6-1 in favor.
The controversy over the novel began with a single parent complaint. Tujama Kameeta complained the novel contains “48 racial slurs directed at African Americans” and said the “the n-word is used so many times that it numbs the readers to its potency.”
“The novel reduces black people to passive, humble victims and ignores the reality of black agency in resistance,” Kameeta said. “Black people are robbed of their role as subjects of history and are portrayed as mere spectators and bystanders in the struggle against their own exploitation and oppression.”
The Herald Independent notes that before the school board decision, a five-person curriculum review committee voted 4-1 in favor of keeping “Mockingbird.”
Twenty people spoke during an hour-long public comment session. Multiple people spoke of how their children faced racism and microagressions [sic] as students in the district.
Cottage Grove resident Omicka Clay said minority children feel isolated and not supported in MG schools. She said it is uncomfortable for the minority students to hear the N-word repeatedly read in a book.
“There are other novels that teach the same standards that don’t require your students to feel humiliated or marginalized by the use of the N-word,” Clay said, noting removing the book from the curriculum would speak volumes to the minority students and community. “It would show the minority students that you are behind them 100 percent. … Why not rule on the side of the minorities for a change?” …
While several people referred to the book as being banned, Tujama Kameeta said this was not an outright ban on “To Kill a Mockingbird” but a removal from required reading.
High school English teacher Jeremy Duss disagreed, saying removing the novel from classroom curriculum is a ban as it denies students the opportunity to engage with the text in a classroom setting.
He also noted the board needs to trust the department to make curriculum decisions. Furthermore, Duss said removing the book from the curriculum would set a dangerous precedence.
“’To Kill a Mockingbird’ is not the only provocative novel we teach in class,” he said. “If it is no longer available to us, what is next? What piece of literature will we be discussing in this very room next year and the following year?”
In past correspondence with district officials, Kameeta had used the district’s English racial achievement disparity as a reason to ditch ‘Mockingbird.” At the deciding school board meeting, the issue was raised again, along with “the broader issue of racism in the district.”
IMAGE: Rachel Gonzalez/Flickr