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:
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!