I have written about some of my success stories, but there are failures sometimes. I guess that is why we call it learning. For the last month I have been teaching Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird, my favorite novel of all time. I even use it as a guide as I face the trials of raising children. I often ask myself, “What would Atticus do?” My passion never dies for this American classic. The novel allows the class to discuss growing up, prejudice, family dynamics, and stereotypes. Basically, I try to instill in the kids that different is not bad. As Atticus points out, “you never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
With old-style gossip in the hall or lunchroom and the use of technology to be mean and bully, the themes of the book are relevant to teenagers. As our reading progressed, I had students write answers to response questions, discuss events and the themes in small groups and Socratic Seminars, rewrite scenes from two characters’ perspectives, and had shown a documentary on the Scottsboro Boys’ Trial. My goal was to have them climb into a character’s skin and walk around in it: to see how other people think.
Today we were going to be discussing how Scout is doesn’t understand her teacher’s disapproval of Hitler and his persecution of Jews while Maycomb and the United States were persecuting African-Americans. Scout points out the hypocrisy for the readers. Using a teachable moment, I ask the students what the historical significance of tomorrow is. One student realizes it is the anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. One student, ignoring the last month’s lessons, blurts out, “We should nuke Japan every year for that.” So much for ending stereotyping and prejudice with all freshman.
Not one to give up easily, I began teachable moment number #2. I told the students about an optometrist I know, a United States Citizen of Japanese descent. His parents had to sell their restaurant for a dollar, pack one suitcase, report to a train station, and spend the next several years in an internment camp. Yes, persecution seems to have existed for many years.
As the young man began to realize he may have engaged his mouth prior to starting his brain, I thanked him for playing along and helping me demonstrate how prejudice has occurred throughout our country’s history. Now, I hope he has finally learned about prejudice and trying to see things from another’s perspective.