Has anyone encountered any flak from teaching To Kill a Mockingbird? I taught it just this year, and I only had a couple of students who wanted to raise their hackles about the use of "The N-word" and similar matters.
Once the historical aspect of the novel was explored, however, the kids became pretty mature and open-minded about the whole thing, and came to understand the book's overall message of tolerance and equality.
Any experiences others have had (good or bad) are welcome.
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I say thank God that students are offended by the word. I would be more concerned if they didn't care. That being said, it is a great book, but some informing the students ahead of time that some of the language is offensive might head-off some of the awkwardness. This would be a good time to discuss the controversy about the "racist" nature of the book, and explain that what the book does so well is shines a spotlight on the dark nature of racism.
I get the same thing from Huck Finn, but if a decent discussion of equality and history in America is given before the text is even cracked open, there shouldn't be much immature behavior. These are both great books that should be taught for their lessons on equality, racism, prejudice, justice, humanity, and family relationships. Of course, there are other themes, but these are among the most important. Nobody is ever born a bigot. Without teaching these novels and tolerance, how can we ever hope to stamp out bigotry and ignorance with regard to race?
Overall, I had a positive experience teaching that novel to my 10th graders last year. I had a few students who thought it was "boring," but there will be kids who say that for any novel you teach. Some of them were a little sensitive about the language at first, but it helped to put it into context and then discuss the way it was presented in the novel, as it came up. In addition to the racial language, some of the southern or period slang terms were hard for the kids to understand, too, so we would tackle those as they came up.
I found it helpful to give my students research assignments before we started the book. They spent a short amount of time researching specific historical aspects of the novel, such as The Scottsboro Boys or The Great Depression. Then they presented this information to the rest of the class (in groups) so that we could all have a better historical context for the book before reading it. Then, as we read, I could refer back to these presentations to activate students' prior knowledge.
During discussion times, I found most of the kids really got into the book, especially some of the more action-packed scenes (like Scout's argument with her teacher or the time she breaks up the lynch mob). I would have students write anonymous questions on slips of paper and put them into a bucket. Then I would draw out the questions and we would discuss them as a class. This way, kids didn't have to ask the questions in front of everyone, but we could still have a good discussion and be sure that any questions they had would be answered for them.
All in all, it was a great experience, and I felt good knowing that I had exposed my students to that classic piece of literature before they left high school.
It's a wonderful book and should be taught. Anyone who calls it a racist book is just plain... well... ignorant. The entire message of the book is just the opposite of racist, however, the "n-word" does raise an issue. One county I worked for forbade us from saying it out loud while reading. Another didn't mind, because they recognized that it was supposed to be purposefully inflamatory to make readers feel uncomfortable about a very touchy subject.
There will be some kids who are immature and can't handle reading it because of the rape content. Such lines as "ruttin' on my Mayella" are bound to get some snickers. However, if taught at the sophomore or later level, you should eliminate some of this immaturity and get to the real substance of the book. Best of luck with teaching it, and thanks for not being afraid to teach a truly wonderful piece of literature!
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