As most of you know, I am a recovering journalist who deeply appreciates the old adage that if you’re not rocking the boat, you’re not doing your job. When journalists don’t ask difficult questions, they don’t just fail their readers, they fail democracy.
This philosophy also informs the way I teach. Although I insist on civil discussions, I assign material that can confront pleasant sensibilities. The classroom can be an ideal place to learn how to disagree with peers and authority figures in a respectful manner–which is why the Biloxi School District’s decision to pull To Kill A Mockingbird from its middle school curriculum perplexes me. Does the district bubble wrap students during recess? Are they afraid that being challenged is the same thing as being scorned? Do they give high school diplomas, or school participation trophies? Without learning how to confront adversaries in a civil manner–that is, without learning to behave as Atticus Finch behaves–no education is complete.
Harper Lee’s book, of course, is racially charged.
So is everything else in Mississippi.
Discussing either the novel or the state’s affairs requires all sorts of discretion and empathy, which are skills that good teachers model, and that good school districts encourage.
Update: The school district reversed itself and decided to include To Kill a Mockingbird in its curriculum. Good for them.