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Educators mull removal of To Kill A Mockingbird

The award-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, written in the midst ofthe American civil rights movement, will turn 50 next year.

The award-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, written in the midst of the American civil rights movement, will turn 50 next year.

It may be the right time, many educators say, for the book to take an early retirement from Canadian high school curriculum.

As the dust settles around the latest Mockingbird controversy — in which a principal at a Brampton Catholic school removed the book from the Grade 10 English curriculum in June following a complaint from a parent about the “language” in the book — another debate has emerged: Is it still the best book to teach diverse, multiracial, multi-ethnic students in the Greater Toronto Area about race relations and anti-discrimination in 2009?

“It’s a great book, but how many great books, how many classics have been written over the past five decades that might do a better a job in dealing with these issues?” said George Elliott Clarke, a writer and English professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in African-Canadian literature.

The principal and staff at St. Edmund Campion’s Secondary School plan to replace the book with a “Canadian novel that better reflects the Canadian experience,” said Bruce Campbell, spokesperson for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board. They will choose the replacement in coming months.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a story of an Alabama lawyer who struggles with racial injustice in the 1930s.

Teachers at the school say it is a much-needed text and teaching tool for discussion in a school where a significant number of the students are black.

But that’s exactly why it shouldn’t be used, said Clarke.

“If we are really interested it talking about the black experience, why don’t we read books written by black people, or that at least talk about our experience,” he said.

“The problem with To Kill a Mockingbird is that it is not about black people, it’s not even about our struggle. It’s about white people learning to do the right thing, and standing up heroically as they should against racism and injustice in American South in the 1930s,” said Clarke.

Chris D’Souza, a former teacher with the board, taught the book for more than a decade before a student in his classroom said she was tired of reading books written by white authors.

 
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