On Harper Lee’s Death: “To Kill A Mockingbird” in the Private School Classroom

To Kill A mocking Bird, Harper Lee

One of the best parts of boarding and private school is the reading list one works through from ninth grade to twelfth grade.

Great reading, writing, and discussion often come with smaller Socratic classes and, often, fighting to read above one’s head.

With Harper Lee’s death this morning, I find myself thinking about “To Kill A Mockingbird” and why I believe myself fortunate to have read it, and discussed it, as high school student.

Yes, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” covers all the hackneyed themes that one sees in tributes (and that many of us wrote about in our papers). The South, race, lawyering, is Atticus Finch a white apologist?

But, as I’ve aged, I now think of the book differently.

With a class today, the book provides an excellent door to intersectionality —- beginning with race, gender, and class.

How do all of these identifiers and pieces of each of us (and there are others beyond these big three) shape, and limit, individuals and groups and how each perceives the world?

Why doesn’t Atticus do more? Of course, it’s the children — who don’t yet understand, or have as many individual or social constraints — that connect with Boo Radley in Mockingbird. Why do groups and individuals rely on identifiers and accept their limitations? Do we need them?

Coming back to Atticus Finch, I find myself returning to the question, “how do you love/respect your parents or someone to whom you look up when you begin to understand them as imperfect…and limited?”

“To Kill A Mocking Bird” takes the reader perilously close to the very serious literary question, “how do you love your parents once you figure out you don’t like them?”

Yes, “To Kill A Mocking Bird” includes the South and all our (I write from Mississippi) exaggerated ugliness, prejudice, fear of the other, violence and adults willing to accept limitations.

Every adult I know still falls into limiting definitions. Sometimes, we don’t do as much as we could, and should; sometimes by choice; sometimes because we’re tired.

Like Lee in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” we still don’t have good answers.

We don’t stop trying and, sometimes, we learn to accept.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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