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When author Malcom Gladwell published a critique of Atticus’ limited liberalism in Thein 2009, I sent him a self-righteous rebuttal, 2,500 words long and with no fewer than 19 pieces of textual evidence. “You want to believe in the Gregory Peck version of him,” a facilitator explained at one point during our workshop, but as you’re reading you will realize “he’s a man of his time.” Specifically, a White man of his time and far from revolutionary.
“Our” in this case refers mainly to White readers, like me.
And I completely understood where those teachers were coming from.
The educators there were predominantly White women.
One 35-year classroom veteran estimated she had taught the book 20 to 25 times. ” she implored, punctuating her point by jabbing her index finger. Driven in no small part by the chiseled features and pacifying nobility of actor Gregory Peck’s portrayal, people talk about Finch in tones not only of reverence, but of attraction—and protectiveness.
The Facing History folks allowed me to report on the training on the condition that I actively participate.
And so I found myself in snowy Chicago, sitting in a bright conference room alongside some of the hardest-working people in America: a dozen or so middle and high school teachers.In 1961, the book won Lee the Pulitzer Prize and the next year was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. When that happens, defenders and detractors alike rise up to debate its place in our classrooms.Meanwhile, the book is called on as a source of moral authority for specious causes, such as when Sen.“I was glad to begin to explore issues of racism, and racial injustice, as they existed in my reality, through a text that would talk about it.” Instead, he and his classmates “got a chance to romanticize Atticus Finch.” “We had an opportunity to see a young girl live in her innocence.We had an opportunity to feel sorry when that innocence was disrupted by this reality that racism existed.I’ve adored the book ever since my eighth-grade civics class; that was at an impressionable age for sorting ideals of manhood.I read it again in college and several times since.Harper Lee’s novel is the closest thing America’s had to required reading.But the book’s failings in confronting racism are more apparent than ever to White educators—and Black ones wonder what took so long.They are scrolling through Instagram and soaking up the stories and images of Black Lives Matter and #Me Too—and Make America Great Again.Too many White teachers, including me, fail to make ,” designed to provide resources for teaching the book in a more historically informed and culturally relevant way.