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Language Arts – Why To Kill A Mockingbird?

February 9, 2021 | Brent Harris

In 7th and 8th Grade Language Arts, students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. There are a lot of reasons  for us to read the book in Middle School:

  • The prose is phenomenal.
  • Harper Lee seems to understand the ins-and-outs of southern culture in the 1930s.
  • We can learn about what life must have been like during the Great Depression in some of the hardest-hit States.
  • We can learn about writing strategies such as choosing a narrator. Scout Finch, who is just a child, is the narrator of the story that deals with pretty serious topics. It makes it more consumable for a younger audience.


However, students aren’t reading TKAM with these things at the forefront of their minds. There are three things from this book that require much more attention: empathy, childhood, and racism.

Racism is rampant in the book, and it was especially so during the Great Depression in the south where white people were quick to find others to blame for their swift decline into poverty and hunger, and this blame often fell to black people. Childhood is a beautiful thing, and it’s a time when it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to be wrong so that one can learn how to be right. Empathy is so, so important. As Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

These are some very important things. We are also, though, learning about the mistakes that the characters in this story make so that we can avoid making these mistakes ourselves. First and foremost, it’s supremely important to avoid any leniency towards racism. Saying that “this is just the way things are” is a privileged sentiment we encounter all too often in our country.

We are learning all these things by having frequent class discussions, writing journal responses, and reading the book together. Students have read a few chapters at home on their own time, but mainly we have been reading this book together as a class. Although by the end of the day my throat is dry and I have a slight headache, I think reading together is so important. It gives us the opportunity to respond to things when plot points are fresh in our minds.

Suffice it to say, it’s been really wonderful engaging with students about such serious and pertinent topics. I have especially enjoyed reading student journal responses. With such large topics, it’s valuable to give students the opportunity to think on their own and write down their thoughts. I am so thankful for their openness and willingness, and I hope to see it continue as we wrap up the unit!


Brent Harris

Brent Harris

Teacher, Grade 7; Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grades

Brent Harris has been teaching Middle School students since 2015. He loves teaching students how to understand the world through literature and writing. He teaches English Language Arts, but he likes to teach other things too! Both of Mr. Harris' parents are educators, and despite trying his hardest to avoid following in his parents’ footsteps, he graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in English Education and a Minor in Physical Education; as a result, Brent is a great argument piece for any “Nature versus Nurture” debate.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Harris enjoys playing guitar and drums, listening to music, spending time outside, playing sports, and hanging out with his kind and loving wife, Lauren. A native of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Harris stays true to all the Canadian stereotypes by being extremely kind and perpetually sorry. He has been a director and counselor at multiple children’s camps in Canada and Michigan, and he appreciates the idea of teaching students and campers in a place where there is freedom to entertain new ideas and try out new things. Mr. Harris has enjoyed coaching volleyball, soccer, and baseball, and while he loves nature, he is being slowly converted into a city boy.

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