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The Banning and Unbanning of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Anaya Chambers

Sarah Beth Besherse and Avery Beckham

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A public Mississippi school district in Biloxi banned Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird from its curriculum. They did not remove the book from the library, only from its being taught directly in the classroom. People on social media had mostly harsh criticism for its removal. Kenny Holloway, the district’s vice president, told the Sun Herald, “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” 

In a class survey, 18 out of 18 did not think this was a positive change; many thought it was a mistake. Lily Hughes, a 9th grader at Bob Jones, stated, “If the book was about suppressing a race of people, or anything similar, I could understand the reasoning behind banning it. But just because a book uses wording that you feel ‘uncomfortable’ reading, is not a valid reason to BAN an entire book from the lives of these students.” When asked what was going too far with banning books, many of the participants came to the agreement that banning a book that was offensive or discriminatory made sense but that being “uncomfortable” is an unreasonable reason.

Emily Polak, a teacher at Bob Jones who has taught TKAM stated, “TKAM is a valuable text for high schoolers because it addresses the ugliness of discrimination and prejudice through the eyes of a child. This text has allowed me to have difficult conversations with my students about not only our nation’s but our state’s past.” Most of the Bob Jones teachers who have taught this curriculum did not agree with the decision to remove the novel.  

The heat from social media’s reactions could have possibly caused the district’s sudden change of heart. They have backed down on the ban of the classic. Students will now need a permission slip, signed by their parents, to be able to read the book. People seem to stand by this book as history, that is “supposed to make students feel uncomfortable,” stated Carol Swain, a former professor of politics. She was interviewed by Fox News on October 26, 2017, regarding the Biloxi school district backing down on banning the book. 

It’s hard to back up the claim of people feeling uncomfortable when language in the hallways around a typical high school makes students feel uncomfortable every day.  Whether you have read the book or not, there is no denying this is an educational piece of literature that teaches students about history and the world today. Nichole Schwartz, another Bob Jones English teacher, stated, “It is only through education that we can combat generational hatred and -isms.”

A recent book that also touches on similar themes is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which addresses many of the same themes of TKAM using incidents from our recent past as inspiration for the story. The conversations that novels like TKAM and The Hate U Give generate are important conversations to have, even if they are uncomfortable.

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The Banning and Unbanning of “To Kill a Mockingbird”