A Painful Reminder

By Elizabeth Rich — July 13, 2007 1 min read
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Officials at Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools are replacing a precursory lesson to the reading of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. An essay and a poem that were used to prepare students for a discussion of the “N-word,” which appears in Lee’s novel, are being scrapped after a ninth grade African American student complained.

According to a Washington Post article, the 15-year-old student was offended when she observed her English teacher, who is white, mimicking stereotypical African American gestures and elocution while reading the assigned Gloria Naylor poem, “The Meaning of the Word.” “She has a different style of teaching things and we knew she was a little over the top on some lessons. But this was not a lesson to be over the top about,” said the student.

As an alternative, Montgomery County educators are suggesting students study segregation photographs from the Jim Crow era and read an essay about a racist white southerner by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Besty Brown, curriculum director for the county said, “What we heard from enough community members and some teachers is that it’s [a discussion of the “N-word”] sensitive, it’s emotionally charged. And if we have a lesson that could be misused and cause real hurt to a few or to a whole classroom of kids, then maybe we need to change.”

Earlier this week the NAACP held a symbolic funeral in Detroit for the “N-word” and other racial slurs, according to the Associated Press.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.