To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird: Should Bradshaw Christian School Ban This Book?

To Kill a Mockingbird has sparked controversy within the school district, as it has in years past in America.  You are a member of the School Board who (along with a small group of your peers) has been charged with figuring out if this text should be taught in the school to incoming freshmen.
The English teachers have claimed this story provides them with the opportunity to discuss historical connections to African-American struggles, the theme of empathy and compassion, as well as a beautiful story of a young girl who finally understands the damage prejudice can cause.
The community members challenging this text claim that it teaches prejudice; it does not condemn it.  They believe the representations of African-Americans in this story are stereotypical and damaging to all of our students.  Scout, they believe, never arrives at a deeper understanding of prejudice.
At the end of the investigation, you will be responsible for making a recommendation to the School Board as to whether this book should be banned from the 9th grade curriculum.
Your committee has decided to take a three-pronged approach to its research:
  • to investigate the alleged historical connections to the story
  • to investigate its alleged theme of empathy and compassion
  • to investigate its alleged stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans during the 1930s
If you decide this book will be taught, you will need to support your claim with evidence from these websites as well as the text itself.  You may also make suggestions about how this book should be taught or what other information should be taught with it.  Should your committee decide to ban this book, you will also need to support your claim with evidence from the text and these websites.
Since there is a great deal of information to examine, you and your committee will need to divide the workload to complete the research and to make an informed recommendation to the School Board by their next meeting on ___________________.
At that time, you will need to submit a written recommendation as well as present your findings to the Board.  Your written recommendation should take the form of a persuasive essay, while your presentation should be in the form of a PowerPoint.
In your efforts to determine if To Kill a Mockingbird should be banned from Bradshaw, you will visit a series of websites over the next few days . As you visit each site, keep in mind your side of the argument.  How does this information bolster your case? How does it act against you?
Historical Connections
Tom Robinson and the Scottsboro Trials
Is Tom Robinson’s story sheer fiction, or is there a historical connection between his story and the true-life drama of the Scottsboro Boys?
  1. Give an overview of the history of the case.  Be sure to paraphrase the information on the page.  What connections (if any) can be made between Lee’s portrayal of Tom Robinson’s trial and the Scottsboro Boys’ Trial?
  2. Do you believe that Lee was trying to show the injustices that occurred in our court system in the 1930s, or was this just another avenue for a white author to demean and demoralize the African-American race? Explain your stance.
  3. Describe how the Scottsboro cases were tried in court.  Why did the prosecution group some of the men to be tried together in one case?  If you were a defense attorney for one of these young men, why might you argue against your client being grouped  with some of the other young men?
  4. Explain how Atticus came to be Tom Robinson’s lawyer. Were the Scottsboro Boys as lucky as Tom Robinson with their lawyers? Defend your response with details from the site.
  5. Read “Why the girls made the charge” and give a summary of why it is believed these two women made this false accusation. Hypothesize as to why someone would commit such a cruel act.
  6. Based on what you have read so far, would you claim that this story provides teachers with a unique opportunity to discuss this landmark case? Defend your response. 
  7. Give three details about the social and economic climate of the 1930s. Were these details noted in To Kill a Mockingbird? Use examples from the text to support your claim.
  8. In your opinion, do societal and economic pressures ever excuse immoral behaviors?  Give two examples to defend your response. Was Lee trying to excuse the immoral behaviors of the Ewells or other townspeople in her book? Defend your response with two examples from the text.
  9. What was the eventual outcome of the Scottsboro Boys?  What was the eventual outcome of Tom Robinson’s case? Note any parallels you see between the two cases.
  10. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus claims the courtroom has the potential to be a great equalizer (274). How would you rate the treatment of the Scottsboro Boys, equal to that of whites or unequal?  Defend your response with two details. How would you rate the treatment of Tom Robinson, equal to that of whites or unequal? Defend your response.
Emmett Till and To Kill a Mockingbird: Teaching Hate or Tolerance?
Visit the PBS website about the murder of Emmett Till. While you are here, you are in charge of determining any connections between To Kill a Mockingbird and this true story.  Did Harper Lee accurately portray the plight of African-Americans in her book?  Is information like this appropriate for all ages and all races? Make your case.
  1. Paraphrase what life was like for Emmett Till in his hometown.
  2. How did Till’s neighborhood in Chicago compare to Robinson’s Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird?
  3. What kind of boy was Emmett Till?  What kind of man is Tom Robinson? Was Harper Lee trying to build prejudice or empathy in her portrayal of this character?  Defend your response with two details from the text.
  4. Review the timeline of Emmett Till. What details are given about his death?  How do these compare with the end of Tom Robinson’s life? What is Lee’s purpose in revealing that Tom was shot 17 times when he was trying to escape?
  5. What verdict is passed on to the men who are accused of Emmett’s murder?  What happens to Tom Robinson’s accusers?
  6. How does the world react to the eventual outcome of the trials?  How does Maycomb react to the eventual outcome of Robinson’s trial?  What is Lee trying to suggest with this reaction?
  7. List at least three major Civil Rights events that occurred during Emmett Till’s life. How did these events affect racial relations in the South and the North?
  8. Read the section entitled How did whites like Milam and Bryant see themselves in relation to blacks (under Special Features – sex and race)? They claim they had no intention of killing Till at first, but they were egged on by Till’s defiant manner.  Explain how white men like these expected blacks to act and describe Jim  Crow laws that supported these expectations.  Did Tom Robinson fit in to these stereotypical expectations? Defend your response with two examples from the text.
  9. How did Till break these expectations? What would you have done in a similar situation?  Be sure to consider the racial environment of the time and the likelihood of your survival in this situation.
  10. Do the stories of Till and Tom Robinson strengthen your ability to empathize? Is this a reason to read or ban this book?
  11. Read the section Why was what Till did so wrong?  Why were these white men  so threatened by Till? Is information like this too volatile for a classroom? State your reasoning.  
  12. Was Till’s murder a lynching? Defend your response with one detail from this article. Was Tom Robinson’s killing a murder?  Justify your response.
Themes of Empathy and Compassion or Racism and Prejudice?
To Kill a Mockingbird and empathy – can a piece of literature set in a racist society truly teach empathy and compassion? Read the following thoughts on teaching this controversial text.
  1. Find the definitions of empathy in this article and evaluate which definition best suits your interpretation of empathy. Be sure that your definition acknowledges both the cognitive and affective processes – have a dictionary ready.  
  2. While this article focuses on children’s literature and primary school students, do you believe that the claim can be applied to high school students?  Defend your response with evidence from the text.
  3. Assess the argument that empathy can be taught through literature.  If you agree that empathy can be taught, is To Kill a Mockingbird an appropriate text to teach it?
A Closer Look at Bibliotherapy
  1. This article discusses the effect of “bibliotherapy” on various groups of people from veterans to the mentally ill. Explain the term bibliotherapy.
  2. How might using bibliotheraphy be helpful in teaching empathy and compassion?
  3. Is it faulty logic to conclude that if books can help people with mental illness or social difficulties that they can also help people  who are perfectly healthy to gain perspective?  How can you connect your thoughts to the argument regarding teaching this text?
Empathetic Engagement with Narrative Fictions
Read the article.
  1. Why might it be important for freshmen to ‘take up’ Scouts perspective of a character?  Why might it be a detriment if they do so?
  2. Is there a point to teaching Mockingbird based on this article?
Pasadena NAACP and Parent Response to Mockingbird
  1. How does the Pasadena NAACP view the teaching of this text?  What are the issues with this text being taught in the classroom?
  2. How do the African-American parents in Pasadena feel as a result of this text being taught?  How do the English teachers and administrators counter their argument?
  3. Is teaching To Kill a Mockingbird worth upsetting the community? Defend your response.
Now that you have read some opinions, form some opinions of your own.  Be sure to use evidence from articles, websites, and the text itself.  Should this book be taught?
Alleged Stereotypical Representations
Donald Bogle’s Five Black Pantheons
Is this book reinforcing more stereotypes than it shatters?
According to Donald Bogle, five main stereotypes appeared in early films depicting African-Americans.
  1. The Tom is always chased, harassed, hounded, enslaved, and insulted.  He keeps the faith and never turns against his white masters.  He remains hearty, submissive, selfless, and oh-so-very kind.  
  2. The Coon developed in to the most blatantly degrading of all black stereotypes.  The “pure coon” emerged as a no account black man who was unreliable, crazy, lazy and subhuman.  He was good for nothing.
  3. The Mammie is the third black stereotype, who can be called a female coon.  Mammie is distinguished by her fierce independence. She is usually big, fat, and cantankerous.
  4. The Tragic Mulatto explores the plight of the fair-skinned  black trying to pass for white. Usually the mulatto is made likable (because of the white blood) and the audience believes that his life could have been productive and happy had they not been the victim of divided racial inheritance.
  5. The Buck is always a big, brutal, and over-sexed man.
Your duty is to consider whether To Kill a Mockingbird reinforces these stereotypes or attempts to break them down.  Examine each of the categories and definitions and consider the African-American and biracial characters from the book and how they meet or defeat these stereotypical depictions.  Use character names and textual evidence to make your case for each stereotype being reinforced or broken.
Your research is now complete.  Now you need to formulate your argument into a well-supported multi-paragraph essay.  Be sure to format your thesis around the idea of if this book should be taught or not.  The written argument must be typed, double-spaced, and thoroughly proofread before it is submitted to the other members of the School Board on ___________.
Along with the written argument, you will need to be prepared to give an oral presentation to the Board.  This presentation will take the form of a PowerPoint presentation summarizing your recommendation in a succinct and powerful way.