A Mississippi school district recently decided to remove Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from its eighth-grade reading list after receiving complaints that the book’s language made people “uncomfortable.”
“There were complaints about it,” Kenny Holloway, vice president of Biloxi School District’s school board, told the Sun Herald. “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.”
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction the next year. It follows a series of events loosely based on Lee’s own experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s, and speaks to themes of racial inequality and discrimination in a small Southern town. The story includes instances of the “N-word” in reflection of the language used at the time, and is listed as the No. 21 most banned books in the last decade by the American Library Association.
According to Holloway, the book will still be available for students to check out in school libraries, but will no longer be used as the core text for eighth-grade ELA, the Common Core state standards for English Language Arts.
The decision came as an administrative and department decision, a member of the school board told the Herald, and was not voted upon by the school board.
When asked Thursday to confirm whether or not the controversial book had been pulled from classes, Superintendent Arthur McMillan issued a statement that read: “There are many resources and materials that are available to teach state academic standards to our students. These resources may change periodically. We always thrive to do what is best for our students and staff to continue to perform at the highest level.”
Many were shocked by the decision, and voiced their thoughts on social media. Arne Duncan, who was the secretary of education from 2009 to 2015 under President Obama, tweeted, “When school districts remove ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from the reading list, we know we have real problems.”
Added author Barbara Shoup in a statement to USA Today, “If we are going to solve the racial problems we have in our country now, we must confront the truth of how we got to where we are. … If it is uncomfortable to read and discuss, so be it. Most things that matter deeply are.”
According to the Herald, the themes for the language arts classes in Biloxi this year are the Golden Rule and taking a stand. The initial talking points of the Mockingbird curriculum revolved around the idea that compassion and empathy transcend race, class and education.