We’ve already talked about efforts to ban classic books, including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Lee’s book was banned in states from Mississippi to California. The work that exposed the deep-seated racism in our society has been labeled “violent and depressing for black students”. I have resisted such efforts. Now the teacher in Loudoun County, Andrea Weiskopf, has publicly called for the book to be banned in my neighboring Loudon County. The reason? The character Attitus Finch is white, so the book is nothing more than a “white savior” story that traumatizes black students. The remarks reflect a harmful but growing movement to ban such books in public schools. The attack on this book in particular has dismayed many of us. As Atticus himself said, “Remember, it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Weiskopf told the board that this classic work not only harms the students, but that any member, if they do not accept this premise, should not make any decisions about the selection of books.
ANDREA WEISKOPF: It’s funny how they are afraid that their children will see a different view of sexuality, gender or religion … If you want to talk about assigned books, let’s read To Kill a Mockingbird together. If you are unable to account for the racial trauma this assigned book is causing black children with its white savior, then you have nothing to do with discussing books.
Your shame reminds me of the observation in the book: “It is never an insult to say what someone thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you. “
Weiskopf has become a focus of debate on both sides. She is fearless in her activism. Her Twitter site includes a quote from Lerone Bennett Jr. that “an educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor”. It mocks the parents who showed up at the meeting to object to books of profane language and doubles its own position of patriotic Americans. “
Weiskopf added a suggestion that school officials asked her to be quiet:
Loudoun County Public Schools: We urge all employees to stand up for disrupting and dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism.
Me: Black life is important! Likewise
@LCPSOfficial: If you keep shouting we’ll put a letter on your file.
Me: BLACK LIFE THING!
I worry that this movement will be successful because board members and administrators are at risk. Instead of dealing with such dubious attacks on the book, avoid the problem as quietly as possible.
In Fairfax County, where I live, A Tale For Two Cities has been removed as necessary to allow for wider literature to be read. Many students mocked and complained about the readings being replaced as flat and boring assignments. As a result, students missed the opportunity to read an exciting, classical work that is referenced in countless other works. It would have made exciting exploration possible not only of class struggles, but also of historical events. However, it has been quietly replaced by administrators to please critics.
Lee’s book is a powerful indictment of racism and an insight into its impact on this family’s life. It uses the language of the times, including the n-word, in a crude and nerve-wracking account of an innocent black man being lynched against him despite the lack of evidence. It’s a story of blind hatred and anger in the south. It addresses racism from the perspective of a privileged white family: “As you get older, every day in your life you will see white men cheating on black men, but let me tell you something and don’t forget … Whenever a A white man does this to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how good a family he is from, that white man is rubbish. “
As a teenager, To Kill A Mockingbird was one of the most influential books of my life, and it was one of the main reasons I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to like Atticus Finch. In fact, I often refer to his character in class with my law students, particularly the image of a lonely lawyer standing in front of a prison in front of a lynch mob. He refused to move because stepping aside would mean moving away from what it means to be a lawyer. The man in that prison, Tom Robinson, was his client. Regardless of his race or actions, he remained a man entitled to protect the rule of law. At that moment the legal system was represented by a single man, and the mob represented whatever we, as lawyers, disapprove of. He couldn’t step aside and still be a lawyer.
We cannot step aside as parents for the same reason. To do so would be to give up the essentials of being a parent. giving in to a mob of a different kind.
I welcomed public statements from people like Weiskopf precisely because they are public. For the most part, these decisions are made without public debate. In Missouri, Natalie Fallert, the Rockwood School District’s 6-12 Literacy Speech Coordinator, advised principals to go “old school” by changing the curriculum less transparently to add social justice and critical racial elements.
This is a departure in that a board of directors is faced with a public broadcast of the basis for banning a book and parents’ views on such acts. Weiskopf and other activists want to emphasize what divides us and reject the idea from the book: “I think there is only one kind of people. Folks. “This is obviously a perspective of racism. It is clearly from the point of view of this white family, but it is an account of how racism inundated every aspect of our society.
In the end, Lee may have seen this coming for herself when she wrote, “People generally see what they are looking for and hear what they listen to.” That could lead to a wonderfully intense and passionate discussion in class. . . when we let the students read the book.