By Robin Fogel-Shrive –”It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy “I just finished teaching Harper Lee
‘s timeless novel to my sophomore English classes, and as I sat down to read their final essay exams last week, I was deeply moved by their sense and appreciation of fine moral character and by their perception of racism in America both past and present.The assessment posed two questions: the first, a personal response on their favorite character in the book, the second, on how the novel affected their ideas of individual courage in the face of injustice.While some students chose the thoughtful and delightful younger characters for question one, who reminded them of their younger selves or siblings, the majority chose protagonist Atticus Finch
, for his exemplary role as a compassionate father and for his willingness to protect the innocent and stand up for what he believed in as a small town lawyer in the deep South of the Great Depression.One of our favorite quotes by Atticus was “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”And one of my favorite activities that these students explored in connection to this famous aphorism was to create a character portrait and personal narrative from an anonymous pair of shoes.The goal was to understand how a person/character can have a different point of view than our own and that when we look at life from someone else’s perspective/someone else’s shoes/someone else’s skin, we can consider things from that point of view.
I discovered this lesson on the National Council of Teachers of English‘s (NCTE), “Read Write-Think” website. I liked the emphasis on “Think.”
One cannot help but see the parallel with the recent killing of Trayvan Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Walk in Trayvan’s shoes, climb into his skin, which perhaps was the wrong color for the volunteer security guard who shot him in the chest as he walked through a gated community, unarmed and holding a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles in the typical teenage attire of a hoodie.
One can certainly climb into the skin of George Zimmerman as well, and see a deep seated, fearful reaction to a young black man.
There seemed to be no time spent in thinking, and the Florida Stand Your Ground’ law upholds the opportunity to waste no time in thinking. Trayvan was not armed nor did he plan on hurting anyone; mockingbirds do no harm.
While the rhetoric in the media straddles the fence of the issue, and the credibility of both Mr. Martin and his killer Mr. Zimmerman are publicly scrutinized, the relevancy of the Stand Your Ground law is questioned for its willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to the person who claims self defense.
Here are some excerpt responses from different students when asked, “How did the novel affect you?”
(These were written just prior to the case being highlighted in the news)
“Many students say that this book is good, but it is not just good, it is amazing. This novel did not affect me at all being an African American you would expect that, but you wouldn’t expect a white man to defend a black man. ..This novel paints a very positive picture of relations between blacks and whites because that is how it is in real life a black man/woman gets accused for something they didn’t do; it happens regularly in life.”
“This novel told a story of an innocent man being treated with injustice because of the color of his skin.”
“I don’t think that being different means you have to be treated differently. I think this book is a good book because it shows us that not everybody thinks the same and that there are people out there who treat everybody equally. This novel taught me to treat everybody equally, no matter what their race, color or gender.”
“Everything about the novel made my mind change completely. Now I view racism differently. I understand that most people have trouble adapting with other races. I hope that this world can change and be one union.”
“I don’t know if this book has impacted me to make a change because I have always looked at racial profiling as wrong. I have always been against racism, and judging people. It gave me a positive insight because Atticus impacted the story and his life lessons were revolutionary.
“It’s not okay to hate anybody.” Atticus Finch.
How revolutionary! We all may need a life lesson from Atticus.