The past couple of days I've been looking for websites where I could start a thread on a forum [and actually get some response] about To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm still not positive exactly what I wanted to know from people, so I started with posting the following note on BookCrossing and a slightly different one on an African American Forum on Topix:
I imagined opening up my inbox to find hundreds of beautifully written answers to my questions.
Well, by the end of the 1st day my hopes were lying lifeless on the floor. I understand that my note was not the most beautifully written thing, but I thought that some lover of TKM would surely see it and take just a minute to answer my simple questions. To say I was disappointed would be... very true.
But I opened my inbox the 2nd day and I felt like this little kid [i may or may not have made this very face]:
A woman! Who would be willing to answer my questions (but only by email). I stalked her BookCrossing profile a little bit, and to be honest, there was not much information. But her picture... That was a clue. She's a teacher! So I sent her the questions via email along with a plea to tell me about how she taught TKM. This was her response [questions in italics]:
Why do you think this text is important? Or do you think it's important?Like Atticus I suppose I think that just because you won't win, doesn't mean you stop trying. The message of TKAM is timeless, ideal, and necessary-- perhaps more today than ever. If we could truly live like Atticus, not just say we live like Atticus, it would be a better world. The text is important because we all have a character in the book that we can relate to. As close to perfect Atticus is, he still isn't perfect. But he tries to do his best.
When was the last time you read it?I last read the book when I taught it, about 8 years ago or so.
Do you remember the first time you read it?The first time I read it, I was in college and it was during a summer. I had never read it in high school-- but I never read much in high school. I think I was supposed to read it, but I must have not been ready to understand it. I do remember that the first time I read it, I was mad at Harper Lee for convicting Tom Robinson. I was so sure that he would be acquitted.
How many times have you read it?About 12, probably.
What were your assumptions of the book before reading it and what were your thoughts after reading it?I think I had a lot of the assumptions that a young person growing up in the North would have. I had never really seen racism, and in my house we didn't use racial epithets at all. I never heard either of my parents use any derogatory comments against people. I guess I grew up thinking that we were better than the people in the South because we had won the Civil War. But I wasn't conscious of that at the time at all. Only now do I understand the whole picture-- and how i really do need to get into the shoes of someone else to understand life from their point of view.
Do you feel like it stands up to multiple readings?Oh yeah. I believe, and tell my students, that we never step into the same book twice. A classic will give us the opportunity to see the book differently because we are different. Today I read the book as a parenting tract. Atticus is one of the best literary parents ever. I especially like his patience. It goes a long way in parenting. I also appreciate the humor much more every time I read it. The snowman chapter cracks me up every time.
Do you think this book deserves to continue to be taught in schools? Why or why not?Definitely. I can't think of another novel that does, other than Huck Finn and maybe 1984. I know that it must be valuable because people still want to take it out of the English curricula. I also think that, in general, we need to include more reading in our classrooms. The patience and critical thought it takes to read a novel is a skill that my students need. We must show them that they can't just click away from a page if they get bored... but I digress.
The best project I did with my students was to have them create bag collages. Outside the bag, they include images of what they show the world about themselves. Inside the bag, I ask that they include one thing that not everyone knows, but that they could share with their classmates. I like to think they learned a bit about each other for one day. It works as a great writing prompt, too.
I couldn't be more pleased about her response.
She gave me just what I was looking for [although i wasn't looking for anything in particular] and more.
Included in her answers were a couple of great ideas that I hadn't thought about looking at before. Parenting by Atticus? I'm leaning toward looking into that.
Also, did you catch her comment on digital culture? Read it one more time:
"The patience and critical thought it takes to read a novel is a skill that my students need. We must show them that they can't just click away from a page if they get bored... but I digress."
As of yet I haven't written her a thank-you/followup email, but I'm considering asking her about that comment and what she feels about the digitization of books and that sort of thing.
Do any of you have any thoughts or questions?