Edinburgh school cancels To Kill a Mockingbird as book ‘promotes white saviour narrative’

School’s head of English said classic novels will be replaced with less ‘problematic’ texts

Lamiat Sabin@LamiatSabin
Tuesday 06 July 2021 12:50
<p>Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in the 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird</p>

Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in the 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird

A Scottish secondary school will no longer teach the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird after teachers claimed the book promotes a “white saviour” narrative.

Another reason the English department at James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh wants to scrap the book by American author Harper Lee from its reading list is because of the N-word is used more than 40 times.

The book, published in 1960, is widely studied in schools to explore the theme of racial injustice.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, published in 1937, will also no longer be taught at the school because of its “dated” representation of black people.

Allan Crosbie, the curriculum leader for English at the secondary school, said that the texts should be withdrawn for study in third-year, or S3, which is roughly equivalent to Year 10 in England and Wales and Year 11 in Northern Ireland.

Harper Lee's novel has been widely studied by students for decades

The school is likely to instead focus on modern works such as Angie Thomas’s award-winning book The Hate U Give, which was written in response to 22-year-old Oscar Grant being shot dead by police in 2009 in Oakland, California.

The move is part of efforts to “decolonise” the curriculum and replace “problematic” texts with those that better represent people of colour and portray them as the main characters.

Speaking at the EIS union’s annual general meeting in June, Mr Crosbie is reported to have said: “Probably like every English department in the country, we still have Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird [on] the shelves.

“They are now taught less frequently because those novels are dated and problematical in terms of decolonising the curriculum.

“Their lead characters are not people of colour. The representation of people of colour is dated, and the use of the N-word and the use of the white saviour motif in Mockingbird – these have led us as a department to decide that these really are not texts we want to be teaching third year anymore.”

Stephen Kelly, headteacher at Liberton High, in Edinburgh, said that there is a need to diversify the curriculum and develop an “anti-racist culture that recognises notions of stereotyping, notions of white-centric attitudes, notions of white people being more important, notions of representation.”

He argued against the of banning books from being taught at schools, and suggested using the books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men as examples in teaching “what white saviourism actually is”.

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